Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire, Based on the books by L. Frank Baum
Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff
Synopsis: Magician Oscar Diggs, a.k.a. Oz, gets swept away from his magic act in Kansas to the land of Oz where he must fulfill a prophecy to bring unity back to the magical land of Oz.
Sam Raimi’s direction is one the weakest points of Oz the Great and Powerful. Sam Raimi is a talented director especially with fantasy material (Evil Dead II, Drag Me to Hell), although normally with more of a comedic horror bend then the family friendly feeling Raimi attempts to conjure here. Raimi is out of his element doing a family-oriented film. It’s not that he’s not capable of it; he is just not allowed to have as much fun as he has in other films. Oz has no coherence as a film. The first 30 minutes are brilliant, filmed in black & white and full frame. However, once the film enters widescreen and color, big-budget effects eclipse the story and characters, leaving viewers with the impression of a colorful yet unfinished work of art.
The story of Oz the Great and Powerful begins promisingly as the character of Oz is developed. He is painted as a selfish yet noble young man who aspires to do good things for others, but he, himself, keeps getting in the way of those plans. However, when the story transitions to the land of Oz, character development becomes non-existent and emphasis is more on visuals, action, and plot development. The plot meanders until it finally reaches an expected and unsatisfying climax. Other characters in the film, including Glinda, Theadora, Evanora, and Finley are flat and seem only to exist to further the plot, rather than making any lasting connects with filmviewers. Overall, the story needs tightening and characters need greater development.
If writing and direction were weak points in Oz, the weakest area of the film is its performances. Performances squeaks by with a slightly higher grade because of the saving grace of James Franco’s intelligent portrayal of Oz. James Franco gives a humanistic performance as Oz in the early sequences of the film, but once the film goes to color, all of the life in Franco’s performance gets overshadowed by the overacting of others as well the overdone look of the film as a whole. Mila Kunis leads the charge of overacting which unfortunately marks Oz. Kunis’s portrayal of Theadora is passable although hardly believable since her evil shows through long before she turns into the wicked witch. The wicked witch is pure caricature, walking a line between laughable and annoying, somehow missing the terrifying quality of the wicked witch in the original The Wizard of Oz. The supporting cast plays over the top too, never matching the semi-realistic tone Franco set early in the film. With greater performances or perhaps different casting, Oz might have been a more watchable and engaging film.
Danny Elfman’s score is one of the highlights of the film, but it isn’t even enough to fully save Oz. Elfman’s score is magical (as per usual), yet it feels commonplace. Nothing in the music stands out like many of Elfman’s score do. There’s nothing wrong with the score, but also nothing special about it, which for Oz sticking to normalcy might have helped it out in the end.
Overall Grade: B-