Oz: The Great And Powerful – Sam Raimi – 2013

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Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful is at once a reverential loveletter, espousing admiration and respect to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s beloved novels, and every inch a Sam Raimi classic bearing all of his signatures.

The last film I reviewed here was Raimi’s A Simple Plan, which is, honestly, the least Raimi of all Raimi films. In that film he shed all the comic-book stylings he’d developed throughout his kinetic action and horror films. Well, one of the things Raimi really hadn’t made up to this point was a genuine family film—(OK, OK, the Spider-man films count, but they are more specifically super-hero action films.) OTGAP is really a film to take even very young children to. It is pretty, its heroes are good, and there are thrills and chills!

Let’s start with James Franco. Oz is a good man who wants to be great, but he’s kind of a sleaze. That’s part of the story though. By the end of the film he becomes, well, not a sleaze and a good guy. He possesses the perfect amount of natural beauty and charm, and he makes Oz a case worth rooting for.

Mila Kunis is extremely hot, though maybe a bit miscast as Theodora. Even after her naiveté had been betrayed and she becomes, Hulk Kunis—I still liked her. I never rooted against her, I just kind of saw her as the victim of false promises and the inevitable reprisals against such fabrication.

Evanora, as played by Rachel Weisz is a much more evil character, though we aren’t given even one note as to why she’s such a bitch. She just is. I really didn’t like her character,  not because she was the villain and did mean things, but because the writers never let me in her head once. She was a completely removed character and seemed alien.

Finley and China Girl are Oz’s companions and they are a heartbreaking duo voiced by Zach Braff and Joey King. These two really bring out the humanity in Oz and form the sounding board against which he will find his inner goodness and win the battle against the witches. China Girl’s story in particular is shattering. Her family and entire village was destroyed by the witch. Yikes! Though we don’t see the attack we do see the devastating effects, and it is this event that really creates stakes for the story. Here, the audience truly becomes invested.

Michelle Williams as Glenda is a marvel. Beautiful and damaged, she is the mind that recognizes Oz for the fraud that he is but needs him to lead despite his lack of magic. Williams plays wise and benevolent perfectly, she seems a maternal goddess a force of goodness in the world, not just of OZ but here in the really real world as well.

Raimi uses 3D in the most tasteless and delicious way possible. He frequently, but only when appropriate throws objects into your eye. For example: a flying, shrieking baboon, or a witch’s fireball. The tornado scene at the beginning is amazingly scary! It reminded me of the second storm in Life Of Pi, but with a sense of humor and thousands of feet in the air.

Ultimately, this film is about a false wizard who takes over a land based on a misrepresentation about his power. In this case, brains wins over brawn and the bloodless finale is exciting and should also leave parents concerned about violence happy. As the film ends, the Huckster becomes the wizard and it is determined to be better leaving the populace of OZ not knowing Oz is actually powerless. Herein we discover a positively Nolanian theme: What lies protect the populace from themselves? This is positively one of the key questions of The Dark Knight, though in the form of Harvey Dent, a false Messiah.

Here too, Oz, is powerless, but he did make the witches flee and was that not an exercise of cunning and power? Fun and colorful though it is, this film has a great moral question at its heart. Can we identify the false wizards in our midst? Did our rulers come to power through deception or democracy?

Here are a few words about Production Designer Robert Stromberg and Composer Danny Elfman. These guys are the meat and potatoes of this film. Both guys do exceptional work. Stromberg, being one of the highest paid guys right now continues to push himself and does not repeat his work from Avatar or Alice. Instead, many of the designs are based on the illustrations from the Baum books and the world created pops and flows, but feels more like another dimension than another planet. It is a reflection of our world, a kinder and simpler version of this world with wonders around every corner.

Elfman has been doing this for nearly thirty years and he’s past the comfort zone and now explores writing themes that don’t call attention to himself like his early work. His scores now can be counted among those who punctuate the filmmaking with grace and subtlety.

Everyone should see this film. It will please fans of the original, fans of the books and fans of Sam Raimi. Now, if they do another chapter, I want another director so that Sam can go on with Army Of Darkness 2. And that director should be: Clive Barker.

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