Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful- A Clashing Blend of Forceful Humor and Nostalgic Fantasy that Fails in Plot, Tone, and Character

Oz-The-Great-and-Powerful_4There was seldom any doubt that nothing was sacred in Hollywood though one would hope that they wouldn’t dare touch the pinnacle years that defined the grand development of the cinema. To even suggest a Gone with the Wind remake or a sequel to Casablanca would inspire utter disgust towards something so ridiculous and unnecessary. But it appears that the original L. Frank Baum adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” wasn’t charming or inspiring enough to prevent a prequel exploration of just how the Wizard arrived in Oz, which is an answer to a question no one was ever curious about. It’s a bit ironic that the new film Oz: The Great and Powerful centers on a magician con man who utilizes visual tricks and dazzling spectacle to distract you from his lack of character or genuineness because that is exactly what director Sam Raimi becomes by the end of this bastardization of muddled nostalgia and childish antics. Through an overabundance of special effects and an incessant barrage of odd humor Raimi attempts to distract you from an adopted, predictable formula and its noticeable obtuseness. Instead of feeling like a distinct Raimi driven project this superfluous trip to the Land of Oz feels like a poorly crafted clone of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though Oz contains a bit more charm and sentimental credence. Oz: The Great and Powerful isn’t at all a worthy addition to the original and beloved Wizard of Oz and practically becomes its antithesis in tone, character, and overall imaginary vigor. It’s a true shame to see a director with a career as a successful genre blender injecting personable humor into either superhero adventure or horrific gore-fests become a peddler for the baseline standard of quality in Hollywood. Though there are occasional Raimi inspired charming moments throughout Oz the overall experience is burdened by flat characters, a bombardment of unnecessary special effects, and blatant miscasting.

One of the most obvious deviations Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful takes from the original Wizard of Oz is in clear character motivation and a palpable understanding of those characters. It seems screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire didn’t want to be bothered with the onerous task of creating an imaginary world reflective of our own so they focused their energies on one character, the magician con man Oscar Diggs (James Franco). That focus is arguably sophomoric as they overtly amplify his greedy, selfish, and egotistical personality to the point of cartoonish caricature instead of allowing genuine relatable flaws to connect with the audience. What follows is a superficial cautionary tale of egoism harming the potential reveal of innate goodness in an imaginary world that makes little sense, especially in regard to the plot and the rest of the characters. It should be noted that the focus on Oscar, though lazily imperceptive, does create a character with some basic charm and personality and is the only character with such qualities throughout the entire film, minus the voice over delivery for Finley (Zach Braff). The flatness of the characters from the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) to the other witch Glinda (Michelle Williams), with undefined toss in characters for blatant show rather than purpose in between, create an equally flat script that fails to inspire your imagination and basic sense of enjoyment. Even if Oz: The Great and Powerful does contain some minor misogynistic overtones this isn’t intentional and just stems from the lack of script inventiveness that relies solely on the most shallow of character archetypes instead of molding unique personalities. But like most bloated budget monstrosities of mediocrity Raimi’s unfortunate journey on Kapner and Lindsay-Abaire’s flat character terrain is just a premeditated excuse for heavy special effects, which is delivered without grace or diligent purpose by director Raimi himself.

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Director Sam Raimi is recognized by many as not only the director of the earliest Spider-Man trilogy (the unfortunate third installment should be erased from memory) but also as the director of the Evil Dead cult trilogy showcasing a storyteller with divergent talents. His unique juxtaposition of humor counteracting drama, gore, or action has been the essential concoction for his signature vibrant entertainment, some more successful than others. Unfortunately in Oz: The Great and Powerful the humor and the drama become a clashing of styles rather than a natural blend of opposing tones. Because of the flatness of the characters the drama seems as laughably overdone as the dependent special effects while the humor rarely seems appropriate and inevitably comes off as forceful. Raimi could very well have been anchored by a less than inspirational script but his signature style is evident throughout the film alluding to an outright failure of practical direction. It wouldn’t be surprising if Raimi was caught up in the digital creation of his version of Oz instead of the natural immersion into an imaginary world because this is the director of Spider-Man III after all. His gimmickry ranges from differing aspect ratios, the jarring, unnatural change from black & white to color, and the dependency on a special effect laden atmosphere, all of which is uninspiring or has noticeably better alternatives for execution. On a positive note, the sequence revealing Oscar Diggs as the newly formed Wizard of Oz through his inventive illusions has a charming sentimental connection to it but unfortunately that fades away moments after. Throughout Oz: The Great and Powerful there is an overbearing sense of forcefulness from the humor, the plot construction, the special effects abuse, and the acting that is most likely directly linked to Sam Raimi’s heavy handed direction.

If you’re ever pondering the question of what exactly went wrong with your film there is a good chance it could be related to these two words: James Franco. Whatever personality charm that Franco possessed at some point in his career, probably in the years between “Freaks & Geeks” and Pineapple Express, has severely waned as overexposure in duds like Your Highness and his unforgiveable lackluster hosting duties at The Academy Awards has depicted him as completely unlikeable. Separating the personal from the professional it’s just clear that Franco is not a quality leading man, especially in this latest lazily acted role in Oz: The Great and Powerful. His articulation of words is unnatural and his facial expressions are louder than any silent movie performance creating a performance that is off-putting when charisma is essential to the role. It’s understandable that he was chosen to depict a self-obsessed man but beyond that the role required something actors call acting rather than just showing up and expecting your presence to do the work for you. Another laughable lead is Mila Kunis though it might not entirely be her fault considering the script mishandles her character in the most obscene of ways. Her melodramatic performance, from unexplained love to temper tantrum wickedness, becomes laughable due to the fact that the script spent zero time in explaining her motivations or grounded personality traits. The other two witches are played as admirably as possible by Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams but have very little exploration and neither of the two talented actresses playing them deserved this embarrassment on their filmographies. When a script gives an actor nothing to work with it’s impossible for them to give you a worthy performance no matter how talented they are or how hard they’re trying.

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It’s a bit unfortunate that Sam Raimi chose to attempt an addition on the structure of a classic, especially such an ill-advised and poorly constructed addition. Though it’s continuously unfair to compare any modern film to a classic such as The Wizard of Oz (though they sort of asked for it didn’t they) it’s a worthy observation that Oz: The Great and Powerful standing alone is still a failure in inventive plot, tone, and believable performances. Despite some minimal charm throughout the film it’s the unfortunate forcefulness in the Raimi humor delivery, the overbearing visual dependency, and the nostalgic expectation that ruins the potentiality for basic cinematic goodness (by basic I mean average). The real moral tale isn’t in relation to the elimination of self-obsession in order to become a charitable human being but rather that special effects can’t ever be a replacement for old-fashioned, genuine characters and an engaging story. It’s unfortunate that a director who once understood these principles has been so accepting of the modern trend of mediocrity and his latest Oz: The Great and Powerful serves as his worst serving of imaginary cinematic tales. You can only get away with visual trickery for so long before the audience starts to notice the strings that need to be cut immediately.

Grade: C-

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Comments
One Response to “Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful- A Clashing Blend of Forceful Humor and Nostalgic Fantasy that Fails in Plot, Tone, and Character”
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