Apr 8, 2013

[Movies] Oz and the Great and Powerful (2013)

With the recent passing of Roger Ebert, renowned film critic, my partner and I decided to head out to watch a movie at the cinema to sort of celebrate his passion for movies. But options were rather limited for the past weekend and since we weren't into watching the big local romance dominating the theaters now, we ended up watching this movie. Admittedly, it was a bit of a surprise that the movie was still showing at all and so it seemed worth investigating.

Feedback about the movie had been rather mixed, so it's not like we were particularly excited about the movie to begin with. But hey, such movies are bound to be a little special effects heavy and we figure that this might do better in a full theater versus just watching it on home video.

In the end - it wasn't that bad. It wasn't that amazing, but at least it wasn't that bad. But it certainly could have been a lot better had they tweaked a number of elements to give the movie more direction. Or something along those lines...

Synopsis: Oz the Great and Powerful is a 2013 fantasy adventure movie inspired by the Oz universe created by Frank L. Baum - although not based directly on any of the existing works. The movie, which is sort of a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that most people are familiar with, was directed by Sam Raimi with a screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Linsay-Abaire.

The movie starts in Kansas where we meet Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco), a two-bit magician at a traveling circus. He's a compulsive liar and a bit of a con man who charms women left and right while trying to make a name for himself. Eventually a twister strikes the area just as Oz tries to escape from his latest, well, altercation, using a hot air balloon. The balloon eventually gets sucked into the tornado as Oz prays for his life.

Eventually, the balloon sets down in the magical land of Oz, where he first encounters the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that Oz is a wizard prophesied to save the kingdom from the wicked witch active in the land. Tempted  by the lure of power and riches, Oz goes with her to the Emerald City and along the way he manages to rescue a small flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff), who pledges a life debt to him. But all is not as it seems in the kingdom and Oz has to find out for himself who is truly wicked here.

First of all, this movie had some major casting issues. Okay, given that James Franco does have some draw from his fan base, his lack of acting skill really hurt the lead role of Oz as the amazing "wizard". As much as the character was a cheat and a con man, you would think that he would be a bit more convincing or something. Instead Franco was just...weird and sometimes disturbing. He just didn't work for me.

There are three witches in the movie as played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, and none of them really stood out in their roles. You would think that these women would end up being head and shoulders above the rest given how such magic users would be figures of major impotance and grandeur in the Oz setting. But instead they were rather drab and didn't really carry their scenes all that well. Definitely a lost opportunity there.

The best performance was given by the CGI flying monkey and the talking China doll (Joey King).

The story was decent, but certainly had its opportunities as well. I will give credit for the effort put into creative foreshadowing woven into the way the story was presented. There were a lot of different visual cues and scripted lines that connected to later sequences. Sure, things were sometimes a tad heavy-handed at times but in the long run it still made sense from a general thematic perspective.

Given it was a prequel of sorts, I admit that I was looking for more touches of the existing Oz universe, despite the differences in license owners when it comes to the original movie. Sure, every writer has his own take on any work of fiction but greater acknowledgement of the existing universe would have been nice. And I didn't even need for things to be visually identical to the famous movie musical that defined Oz for most of us - I just needed more icons and such that we'd more readily associate with Oz.

On positive note though, Danny Elfman's scoring was a brilliant as ever. Just wanted to add that.

Oz the Great and Powerful may not be the best Oz movie ever created (Return to Oz, another Disney movie, was so much better), but it carried itself well enough. The story might have been salvageable with more rewriting and a major overhaul of the cast - at least for me. Still, the movie managed to eke out a decent 2 CGI flying baboons out of a possible 5.

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