‘Oz The Great and Powerful:’ high on visuals, low on substance

Daniel Woodhouse

2.5 out 5   

And so we return to the land of Oz, the classic setting of the L. Frank Baum’s children’s novels. It’s quite a task taking on such a trademark of American culture, and the question is posed: does the film make us want to go back to Oz, or should we have stayed in Kansas?

Pitched as a “spiritual sequel” to the Oz books by the filmmakers, the movie takes place before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

From the start, we are introduced to Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a carnival magician and con-artist. When he accidentally angers the carnival’s strongman, Oz is forced to escape in a hot air balloon, but flies into a tornado in the process, finding himself in te land of Oz.

Courtesy of "Oz The Great and Powerful" Facebook page
Courtesy of “Oz The Great and Powerful” Facebook page

Oz has a weak script. Writers David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner have pretty much rehashed the novel’s premise.

The script fails from a complete lack of tension, since anyone who’s read or seen The Wizard of Oz already knows how things will turn out; The Good Witch will win, the Wicked Witches will lose, and Oz will become the ruler of, well, Oz.

Director Sam Raimi does his best to make Oz feel exciting and suspenseful, but because the script has been pandered solely to children, he isn’t given much to work with. To make matters worse, Raimi was forced to edit scenes that were considered to be “too scary” to get the PG rating Disney wanted.

Honestly, screw you, Dinsey. Why can’t you be hands-off with just one of your projects, for once? This is a shame because Raimi’s specialty of blending the genres of action and horror allowed him to create successful films such as The Evil Dead and the Spider Man trilogy.

The various actors playing Oz’s characters are nowhere near the memorable level as the original 1939 classic film. James Franco does a good job of playing Oz, whose character is basically the conman with a heart.

Rachel Weisz as Evanora, aka the Wicked Witch of the East, often stumbles through scenes looking confused as to how she should play what is essentially a very bland and one-dimensional character.

Mila Kunis gives an over-the-top performance as Theodora, aka The Wicked Witch of the West. This ends up working well, but doesn’t change the fact that her character is totally oblivious to manipulation and naive to the point of utter stupidity. Get this: she’s turned into the The Wicked Witch of the West by — wait for it — eating a green apple. Really thinking outside the box on that one, weren’t you, Disney?

Michelle Williams gives a decent but forgettable performance as Glinda the Good Witch, and Zach Braff ultimately just serves as the token comic relief of the film as Finley, the flying monkey.

Most of the film’s energy seems to have been invested into the movie’s looks. The special effects do provide some amazing eye candy. The Emerald City towers over the landscape of Oz. It’s also nice to see that the movie made use of both practical effects and actual sets, instead of relying solely on green screens and CGI. Special attention goes to the costumes and makeup, which are extremely well done and all look uniquely designed to fit in the world of Oz.

Oz The Great and Powerful is, more or less, a pretty light show with little emotional investments in the story department. It’s a good movie to take the kids to, but if you’re an adult, wait for it to come out on DVD.