This week, I put on my ruby slippers (don't judge me), clicked my heels together three times and said "There's no place like the cinema!" and checked out Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) starring James Franco and directed by Sam Raimi.
The story serves as a prequel of sorts to the original The Wizard of Oz (1939). Certain elements couldn't be used as this is a Disney film and the original film is owned by Warner Bros., but all the groundwork is layed out for anyone familiar with the original.
The movie tells the tale of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a mediocre carnival magician and conman working in Kansas in 1905. In an altercation with another carny, Oscar escapes in a hot air balloon only to be caught up in a familiar feeling tornado and transported to the magical realm of Oz. There he meets the first of three witches in the film, Theodora, played by Mila Kunis. Theodora believes Oscar is the "Wizard" from prophecy and has come to Oz to bring peace and rule over all the land. Oscar, always having believed he was destined for great things and with a greedy streak a mile wide, immediately assures her he is, in fact, the Great Wizard and will gladly take the throne. Little does Oscar know he will have to battle a wicked witch or two along with their evil flying monkeys and tall guards with funny mustaches.
I'll spare you the details of how everything turns out. Not necessarily because I'm afraid I'll spoil anything for you. More because nothing that happens in this film will surprise you in the slightest.
Ok, first the good news. The opening of the film is done well. It's shot in black and white and the screen at the theater is not as wide as it normally would be, making the entire look and feel of the first 15 minutes of the film unique. The ensuing storyline giving you a glimpse of Oscar at his sleaziest is pretty campy and sometimes downright silly, but it helps to set the stage for Oscar's path to goodness later in the film.
In what is one of the more unique and ingenious uses of technology in a movie theatre setting, when Oscar emerges from the tornado and is first getting a glimpse of Oz, the movie theatre screen itself slowly widens out to it's maximum size while, at the same time, vibrant colour gradually bleeds into the picture. It's an amazing effect to behold. Unfortunately, it was shown in one of the trailers leading up to the film, so it wasn't the surprise it should have been, but it was still a very impressive use of technology.
Alas, it's all downhill from here.
I'm not sure which effects house was commissioned to do the special effects for this movie, but they should probably feel bad about cashing those cheques. For a movie released in 2013 and the next in a very long line of movies where entire worlds are crafted for our protagonist to march around in, it's so poorly done it's almost comical. From little river fairies to the obligatory cute Disney character China Doll to the even more obligatory comic relief character Finley the Flying Monkey, all of Oscar's interactions look like he's standing on a sound stage and talking to the air where someone has told him a character will be inserted later. There's a good 20-25 minutes of the movie where it's just Oscar tromping through Oz with two CGI characters in tow. So, essentially, it's James Franco walking around in front of a green screen talking to himself. I don't mean that in a "I-know-how-films-are-crafted-and-that's-what-they-do" kind of way. I mean that in a "This-looks-so-bad-I-can't-help-thinking-that-he's-talking-to-the-air-in-a-big-green-room" kind of way.
Don't even get me started on the magic effects the witches use throughout the film. At one point, there's a duel between a good witch and a bad witch that looks so terrible I thought I was watching a kids show on Nickelodeon from 1995. I thought back to a similar duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and nearly tore my hair out for what could have been.
There just wasn't any suspension of disbelief for me at any time throughout the film. From the terrible effects to the bad acting to the awful script to the cliched storyline, nothing at all captured my attention or drew me into the movie. It probably didn't help that the movie is a prequel so we go in knowing how it's all going to turn out.
I'd recommend avoiding this one like the plague. If you have to see it, I'll make one suggestion; bring kids with you. If you don't have any of your own, borrow or rent some. The kids in the audience at the showing I went to were laughing and crying throughout.
1.5 stars out of 5
Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Mar 14 2013
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Mar 14 2013