dir: Sam Raimi
They didn’t have the guts to do a remake of the original ‘classic’, so I guess we had to have a prequel. Having said that, I don’t doubt that a remake of Wizard of Oz is now probably just around the corner…
Yes, the first question any person might reasonably and rhetorically ask themselves is whether the world really needed a prequel to one of the most beloved films of all time, a timeless classic blah blah blah for all ages that blah blahs children everywhere. Of course the world didn’t need such a thing. If something is a timeless classic, it needs neither prequels nor sequels, and it rarely if ever benefits from them, other than benefitting someone financially.
So, no. I’ll cut the suspense for you now, if you haven’t seen this yet, and answer straight up at the beginning that the world would have kept on truckin’ without this film’s release. I know, I know, it’s not the best way to write anything, because then what’s written lacks the tension that a raised question can generate if you give it ages before you provide the solution.
I'm not going to be a tease, then, and just say straight out, much to the world's surprise, that Oz The Great and Powerful, doesn't do anything to reinvent the wheel, the film reel or the visual entertainment medium in the slightest. It is, in parts, visually stunning, but that means less than it used to these days. Almost everything of a certain budget has eye-popping visuals and fantastical vistas conjured by thousands of wizards with computers, whether in 3D or not, and it's coming to mean less and less as time rolls on, at least to me.
It's a story that doesn't need to be told, because no-one really cared what the backstory was to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Even so, the flick makes no sense, no kind of sense except in relation to The Wizard of Oz. To anyone who knows nothing about that creaky old flick from the 1930s about a young redhead who goes on an ill-advised 'journey' with three strange men, or the L. Frank Baum books, this would seem to be a story about an arrogant conman (James Franco) who gets in over his head, and strives to become the ruler of a fantastical realm for pretty much no discernable reason.
But isn't it all about Dorothy? If you don't know that Dorothy comes along eventually and gets down to the dirty work of killing witches, why would any of the set up matter? Even if it's in 3D, who really cares? I imagine a prequel to Taxi Driver whereby they give us the entire backstory of the Albert Brooks character, Betsy's co-worker at the campaign office, who secretly pines for her even as he watches her go off on a pity date with Travis Bickle.
That's what people really want to see, surely. I've got to stop this, and talk about the film seen, and not everything around it. James Franco seems like he was genetically programmed to play a big character like this; a self-important, venal, lecherous scumbag of the vaudeville era. I won't say that he seems and acts anachronistically, because I'm not sure what sleight-of-hand magicians at the start of the 20th Century were really like, nor whether they grinned with as much of a shit-eating grin as Oscar does here. What I will say is that, despite all my burblings before, I really enjoyed his performance. Everything else is fairly absurd, and outlandish, and not very human, but he was something real amidst all the hollow but colourful artifice.
When still in black-and-white, as another homage to the original, we see Oscar working threadbare amongst the hicks and hayseeds, charming a naive lady with a tale about his grandmother's music box (not a euphemism, I hope). There are three main interactions, or occasions, that point to his singular talent for seducing and dumping the ladies around him. One such nice lady (Michelle Williams) asks him if he's happy to see her, and whether she should marry some guy who proposed. Oscar says yes, though glances sadly away and towards the ground, as if to lament the callowness and immaturity that compels him to push away good women, whose only crime is that they love his wicked, wicked ways.
The husband of another woman goes on a rampage, forcing Oscar to jump into a hot-air balloon and fly into a tornado.
Up until now, if you caught his name, you'd be wondering why the heck anyone would hire Sam Raimi to direct such an undertaking. After all, he's famous for the Evil Dead films, and those Spider-Man movies of vastly varying quality. The thing about Raimi is, that he can easily turn any story into the kind of film he wants. So virtually any moment can be turned into a freaky, flashy and terrifying visual ordeal as the camera races at the actors, looking like it's going to headbutt them. A great example of this is the scene in the basket of the balloon, when flying debris threatens to impale him in the most painful manner possible, as it flies in from every possible, and some cases impossible, angle.
Once he hits ground, and the aspect ratio of the screen changes, and the screen bursts into eye-damaging colour, we realise that he's not in Kansas any longer (well, duh). He meets a nice lady in a big red hat (Mila Kunis) and immediately bangs her. It's immediate. This is what it was like before James Bond: Oscar the Great and Powerful in the Pants Area was bestriding the continental United States getting the ladyfolk to drop their bloomers with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and the tinny sounds of his 'grandmother's' music box (no euphemism). And now he's doing it in some magical land, where some prophecy says that a wizard will come along and save the stupid, stupid people from the evilness of a wicked witch.
But but but Oscar isn't an actual wizard, is he? Sure, he's magical at getting into the nether realms of women both mortal and immortal, but his powers don't seem to extend beyond the tip of his penis. Presumably, this so-called 'prophecy', as they call it, relies upon someone having actual magical powers, because these witches aren't fucking around. They have actual powers, and they're not afraid to use them. One of the evil witches, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), has no problem killing people, whether they're made of flesh or china.
[img_assist|nid=1871|title=Witch, total witch|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=272]
You heard that right. There are china people in this, or at least a widdle china person. And she's an adorable, bossy little thing. Evanora orders her minions to destroy the poor girl's china village, and she is the only broken-legged survivor, and she, too, falls in love with Oscar, but there's no inappropriateness, I'll have you know.
Along the way, as you would hope, Oscar collects people and various hangers-on, but there's no cowardly lion or rusty tinman or ignorant hick redhead. Who or what the hangers-on are and what their names are doesn't really matter. It's all a lead up to some kind of big battle scene, and Oscar realising his potential and finding a way to convince powerful witches that he is, in fact, more powerful than them. And to do so, he calls upon the power of the Wizard of Menlo Park: the power of Thomas Alva Edison.
I kid you not. I guess it was inevitable, considering how the 'man behind the curtain' is introduced and explained in The Wizard of Oz, but, and it hurts to say this, I really liked the way they put together the ending. Almost everything else from beginning to end is filler, pleasant filler at that, but the ending delivers in a quaintly humorous way. James Franco hams it up as best he can, and has a tremendous voice for this kind of booming flimflammery.
I really enjoyed him in this. Let's face it, The Wizard of Oz may be a classic, and my daughter loves watching it, but it is a bit of a chore to sit through. A lot of a chore, I have to say, even though it's not that long. It's also a pretty weird movie, but that's not a bad thing. This isn't as weird, but it also doesn't feel like a kid's film, or at least a film aimed at kids. It probably shouldn't be watched by kids, because boys will think it's cool to be a womanising scumbag, and girls will think that womanising scumbags can be redeemed by the love of the right white woman, which is a complete fantasy more unlikely than flying baboons and magical wands. It's simultaneously too grownup for kids and too childish in parts for adults. The witches do okay, but it's really James Franco's show, and I don't begrudge him that.
Whoever thought getting Zach Braff to do the voice of the flying monkey Finley should be rewarded handsomely: mountains of riches, luxury cars stacked on top of each other, daily blowjobs.
No, wait. I meant to say whoever thought getting Zach Braff to do voicework in this film should be rudely dragged outside of their studio and shot repeatedly. That horrible man has a voice that takes layers off your ear drums and your medulla oblongata.
I have no doubt they will make more sequels. The rights to the story, to the books, are in the public domain now, which means the greed will rise and overflow the banks of capitalism once more, drowning us in its murderous wake.
Oz the Great and Powerful: It's not a completely terrible movie. Enjoy!
6 times I thought this movie was about the cable prison series Oz and was slightly disappointed out of 10
“I don't want to die! I haven't accomplished anything yet! Please!” – hopefully not my last words before I leave this mortal coil either – Oz the Great and Powerful