Oz The Great And Powerful

Art & Culture

There are some films that have an inexplicable hold over the collective psyche of the cinema-going population of the world. One of them is The Wizard Of Oz, a 1939 musical in colour with an annoying 17 year old pretending to be about 5 years younger. This is a prequel of sorts to that film, made nearly 75 years later. It’s somewhere between good and bad.

My preliminary remarks about the Judy Garland film are intended to explain that I am possibly one of the only people who will not be reviewing this film in the light of its much more famous older sister. It’s a film, it’s on at the cinema, is it any good? End of.

Let’s start with the plot. The first 10 or so minutes of the film are shot in black and white in a narrow-screened, old fashioned format. We are in Kansas in 1905, where we meet phony carnival magician Oz (James Franco), who plays to small crowds of ignorant locals, and seduces local women. He’s also mean to his assistant Frank. In fact, he’s just mean in general. And when he has to escape an angry husband in a hot air balloon, he is transported into another world, all in colour, with a much bigger screen, which is – by strange coincidence – also called Oz.

There he meets a beautiful witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who is enchanted by his seductive ways, though less thrilled when he chats up both her sisters, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Though there seems initially to be some confusion as to which of the is the wicked one, it soon becomes obvious, and Oz (the magician) is cast in the role of saviour of Oz (the country) alongside the only good witch, with his faithful flying monkey and a china girl as backup. The forces of the other 2 witches are arrayed against him, and he has nothing in his armoury – apart from a gift for creating illusion.

There is a good film in here somewhere, and occasionally it pops out. The three actresses playing the witches do a remarkable job with very limited roles, and all credit to them, and Michelle Williams in particular, for triumphing over such shallow material. Franco himself is good enough, though maybe he works too hard at being shallow and self-centred. I very much liked the china girl, who is beautifully created, and has a dynamic character when given screen time. Some of the special effects are impressive, and I suspect most kids will enjoy it.

However – it is not by any stretch of the imagination a magical film, precisely because no imagination is being stretched. Someone should tell Hollywood that you do not create magic with special effects alone. There needs to be something unexpected, quirky and unusual. This is just a bog standard story about a man finding his better nature through the love of a good woman. The script is mostly A to B stuff, with everyone fulfilling their pre-ordained destiny, and far too much exposition and explanation.

Maybe it’s not meant to be magical, though I’m sure it would like to think it is. Its primary purpose is, after all, to make money, which it is doing very successfully. As I say, I’m not complaining that it’s a poor version of the original, because the complete absence of Judy Garland is one of the film’s highlights. But I do suspect that it won’t be cherished in the memories of millions in 75 years time.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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