Content Curated By Darin R. McClure & a few photos


Oz the Great and Powerful
March 8, 2013, 10:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Oz the Great and Powerful:

Sam Raimi’s grand and magical new picture recalls the sense of
wonder that movies could once awaken in us. Unlike such recent 3D
fantasy riffs as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and
Jack the Giant Slayer (which tanked last weekend), Raimi’s
Oz the Great and Powerful is untainted by modernist irony
— it carries us back to the clear-cut emotions and moral outlooks
of traditional fairy tales and asks us to take them straight. And
while the digital marvels with which these sorts of movies now
swarm have come to seem rote, this film deploys them with fresh
glee.
The 3D, for example. If we must have 3D, let’s really have
it
. Not just for tastefully subtle depth effects; let’s have
gold coins, gouts of water, and heavily fanged flying baboons
sailing off the screen and right into our faces. And a big serious
score — put in that call to Danny Elfman. Raimi, who knows cheap
thrills from his Evil Dead days, and bottomless budgets
from his Spider-Man tenure, is just the man for this
job.
The story is a prequel to the 1939 Wizard of Oz,
filling in the background of the famous wizard and relating how he
came to be in that land of witches and winkies and scampering
munchkins. Like the earlier film, this one’s opening passages have
been shot in black-and-white, and they’re framed in a boxy,
old-fashioned aspect ratio that gives them an appropriately antique
feel. (The story is set in an unspecified period that seems plainly
Victorian.)
James Franco is Oscar Diggs (nickname Oz), a smalltime magician
with a traveling circus that’s currently encamped outside a Kansas
prairie town. Inside his rube-packed midway tent, we see that Oscar
is pretty good with the levitations and prestidigitations of his
craft. But he’s a dodgy character, an itinerant heartbreaker with a
girl in every town along the carnival circuit (here it’s a sweet
blonde named Annie, played by Michelle Williams). When his amorous
activities ignite the ire of a jealous circus strongman, Oscar is
compelled to flee in a hot-air balloon. His relief at escaping is
short-lived, though — the towering funnel of a tornado is headed
straight at him, and it sucks him down into its furious vortex.
The movie shifts to glorious color as Oscar’s battered craft
falls to earth in the Land of Oz. Here Raimi and his battalion of
VFX artists vividly simulate the saturated three-strip Technicolor
environments of the 1939 Oz — the grasses and foliage and
big, impossible flowers radiate a jewel-like beauty. (Some care had
to be taken over hewing too close to the earlier film. Although the
L. Frank Baum novels from which both movies derive are in the
public domain, The Wizard of Oz itself isn’t. Thus, among
other things, no ruby slippers, which were a non-Baum addition to
that film.)
Oscar soon encounters a young woman named Theodora (Mila Kunis),
who tells him that she is a witch — a good witch — and that she
believes him to be the wizard prophesied by the late king: a savior
who’ll protect the people of Oz from the cruel depredations of an
evil witch named Glinda. Theodora takes Oscar to the resplendent
Emerald City to meet her sister, the icy Evanora (Rachel Weisz),
who is now the kingdom’s regent. Evanora shows Oscar around the
castle — lingering in a vast room piled with gold — and tells him
that he can be king, if he wants, but with one
requirement: he must travel to the dreadful Dark Forest and destroy
the magic wand of the hated Glinda (and presumably Glinda
herself).
Of course Glinda (Michelle Williams again) turns out not to be
evil at all (let’s say someone else is). She’s a paragon of
unblemished goodness, and when Oscar admits to her that he’s not
really a wizard, she tells him that doesn’t matter — he has only
to make the people of this downtrodden land believe he is…and maybe
convince himself, too.
Like Judy Garland’s Dorothy on the road to Oz in 1939, Oscar
accumulates lovable sidekicks on his way to the Dark Forest. First
there’s a winged monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), then a
knee-high ceramic sweetie called China Girl (Joey King), whose
cracked porcelain legs Oscar repairs with glue. (“Magic in a
bottle!” he says.) Please be forewarned that both of these
characters are exceedingly cute.
After a series of lively 3D adventures, Oscar and his diminutive
companions finally hook up with Glinda, and at her stately white
castle Oscar agrees to help launch an assault on the true Wicked
Witch that will drive her from the kingdom. Oscar may not be a real
wizard, but he knows some tricks.
The role of Oscar almost went to Robert Downey Jr., which I
think would have been all wrong. Downey is a treat to watch in just
about any movie, but he gives off a cocky contemporary vibe. For a
stylized quasi-period tale such as this, Franco, with his warm
smile and easy diffident humor, is just right. And not only does he
have chemistry with the glowing Michelle Williams, he has chemistry
with the monkey and the china doll, too. Talk about range.


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