Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Review

Oz the Great and Powerful

Movie Review

By Jeffrey Kieviet

oz-the-great-and-powerful-banner-poster

wizard-of-oz

“There’s a land that I
heard of once in a lullaby.”

Oz the Boring and Mundane is a kid’s movie. This shouldn’t mean anything about the quality of the film; lots of movies made for children are good, look at 1939’s The Wizard of Oz starring Liza Minelli’s mom: bright colors, cheerful music, and flamboyant costumes. So take all of that and give it to the guy that made Evil Dead. Sounds awesome, yeah? A dark, sordid tale of a man from our world sent into a strange, mythical land to lead them against forces of evil. Literally Army of Darkness for kids. I don’t know who’s fault it is, but somewhere along the line they messed up horribly.

I like movies, all movies: romantic comedies; action/adventure; dark, cerebral thrillers and whatever else Netflix can come up with as a genre. And I like a good family film when I’m hanging home with the roomies. We’re all young at heart; check out the thoughts on Pixar from fellow Screwheads Derek Nahigyan (Part 1 / Part II) & Pierce Nahigyan. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is my go-to pick-me-up when I gots the blues. Well, that and Fight Club. So I do not discriminate against kid’s movies for being kid’s movies. I even love bad films: Warwick Davis’ Leprechaun series, the $3K Thankskilling, and anything by Uwe Boll. A bad movie still has something, to watch, enjoy on a more superficial level, or even the mocking drinking game. The worst type of film is a boring film. Not boring because it is slow and poignant, but boring because it is uninteresting.

Right? Looks like a wild ride.
Right? Looks like a wild ride.

To my great and powerful disappointment, that is where this film falls. I’m not sure if it attempts to be a direct prequel to the 1939 film because it gets muddled in its inconsistency. It’s more of a wink and a nod, a reboot starting before the beginning. They have the classic yellow brick road, munchkins, witches, bubbles, and flying monkeys, all of which mirror the design from the movie as opposed to the source material. The books were simple children’s literature, with the warning by the author: “Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident. Having this thought in mind, the story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to please children of today.” Whether or not this is factually true is up for debate, there’s always room for a little political satire in a kid’s book. But the point is, Oz is meant to be fun!

And I can kind of see where director Sam Ramie was going. He takes the retro black and white beginning (even putting it in 4×3, old television dimensions), and as James Franco is swept away to Oz, the screen stretches and fills with color. Flowers of epic proportion and vivid quality bloom to life on screen, a feat which I’m sure is fascinating in 3D, but to me it just looked like the next CGI/live-action phoned-in studio project. The small practical sets are ballooned to unsettling contrast by the amount of digital background and effects painted around the action. I enjoy CGI when that’s what it’s supposed to be, if this was an advanced version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I’d get it. But it’s not awkward looking for goofy effect, the monkeys and scenery are supposed to directly interact with the live-action characters and they look like paint. Maybe that’s what it is, instead of a motion picture, this new style of film is “motion painting.” There’s not much to take away from it other than the beautifully fake computer enhancements. You want a dark children’s movie, some real Dark Crystal or Labyrinth level stuff, if Sam Ramie had gotten the chance to make this flick before Spider-Man? It may have looked like a little-known Oz sequel that handled the material with L. Frank Baum’s childish reverence.

220px-Returntoozposter

“I lost them. They fell
off on the way back.”

Return to Oz starred a yet-unknown Fairuza Balk and a talking chicken. The chicken looks so real in this movie, know why? Because they used a real chicken! And the Tin-Man (or I guess in this one he’s a Clock-Man) is a real metal guy pushed around by puppetry and wizardry. They have a tall, thin pumpkin man that left me amazed, terrified and awed far more than a computer cartoon. Even the puppeted Cowardly Lion, with his separated joints and mechanical eyes, looks more realistic than the CGI 2-second spot he’s given in The Great and Powerful. I mean it may be nostalgia more than anything else, but when did practical props and make-up go out of style?

Return-to-OZ-return-to-oz-31219337-1200-770
Ok, maybe not that realistic.

For Tik-Tok, they used an R2D2-like midget and sent him roaming about the world. Can you imagine if they used CGI for R2D2? That would be as bad as turning Yoda into a cartoon and making him a light-saber ninja (read with heavy sarcasm [see Episode II: Attack of the Clones {don’t actually see it, it’s really bad. But, ya’know, use it for reference to the Yoda thing}]). Jack Pumpkinhead (must have been a really creative day in the office) was made using a puppet on strings, an animatronics rag-doll, and just a skinny dude in a suit. And for a villain? Look at this lady missing her head:

Yeah, that's her spare in the background.
Yeah, that’s her spare in the background.

Or Wheelers:

oz_14 returnoz_wheeler

Now, I could be wrong, because this movie flopped worse than a J-Lo directed Gigli sequel, and Oz the Great and Powerful had an almost $100,000,000 opening weekend, but I guarantee that there’ll be more late-night viewings of Return to Oz in 20 years than there will be for OGP. Look at the clay-mation! It has texture and weight and essence. CGI characters look like they’re floating above the ground. Ok, I guess that works for flying monkeys but what about when they land and their feet don’t register in the dirt?

I got nothin'...
I got nothin’…

These 3 movies make up a very eclectic trilogy. And I do group them together because Return & OGP make direct reference to The Wizard of Oz. Much like the musical Wicked, the 1939 film has had such an impact on our culture that no one bothers to go back and adapt the books. OGP has one song, kind of, and James Franco cuts that short. There is an awesome practical graveyard set, but the background quickly distorts it’s realistic beauty. I was never a big Zach Braff fan (admittedly, ‘Scrubs’ reruns on Comedy Central have grown on me), but his monkey character really pulled focus a lot of the time. I understand continuity is always something to struggle with, and I’m not much of a nitpicker when the guy has a cigarette in his mouth in one shot, then the angle changes, same scene, and the cigarette is in his hand. But the CGI monkey is trucking around this bag the entire movie, and goes from dragging it to flying it through the clouds while its burdened is lightened only a few drops of glue. It’ll make more sense if you see the movie, but it’s not like he started taking steroids or something. Or was he?

JFranko

“I don’t want to
be a good man…”

And you won’t, Mr. Oz. The character is incredibly unredeemable. I like James Franco, but he (and to a certain extent Mila Kunis) just doesn’t sound right in the role. It’s like Brad Pitt in Troy, the actor is anachronistic to the setting. A blond surfer dude in ancient Greece works as well as a recovered junkie in 1905 Kansas. Not saying that Franco used to be a junkie, but he kind of looks like he was, doesn’t he? Maybe just an epic stoner, junkie might be too much. Anyway, the only character I cared about was the china doll, but that’s because she’s practically a baby, and how can you not feel bad for such a sad little girl?

To be fair, there were 3 things I enjoyed about the flick. As previously mentioned, it is a beautiful looking film. While I feel CGI is allowing for lazy cinema, especially in 3D, this movie is a feast for the eyes. 2nd: Bruce Campbell. Walt Disney Pictures Premiere Of "Oz The Great And Powerful" - Red CarpetI think he pops up more than I saw him, but when I finally realized it was him, I was stoked. His goofy look and memorable voice brought a comforting chuckle to my tired and bored person and I actually got excited for what would happen next. Unfortunately it was stuff that didn’t involve Bruce and it started to go back down hill. Lastly, the demon-wench from Evil Dead/Army of Darkness shows up. couldren-witchI don’t want to ruin when or where, but I really hoped she’d call out “I will swallow your souls!” And then James Franco would team up with Bruce Campbell and we’d have Ash Goes to Oz. “Swallow this!” Shot-gun-magic-wand blast to the face and then he puts a chain-pitchfork on his hand and… I’m going to stop there because this is possibly the greatest idea I have ever had. I’m going to write this story, post it up in ‘Solo Shorts.” You wait and see, the next Great American Novel: Oz of Darkness. Eh, working title. I’ll have something better by the time I write it. (C) Copyright bro, don’t steal it.

The last thing I have to mention, the wicked witch of the West. The green one. So there’s the good witch (I think is obvious from the trailers); her sister, the wicked witch of the East (the one Dorothy’s house falls on); and the scary green one who melts with water. In the previews they show her hand slam on a table and freakishly rake it with her sharp, black fingernails. Her silhouette cackles up the wall in a hazy light. And the posters present her face shadowed under the brim of her menacing, pointed hat. Who could she be? I mean, not to be condescending, but like, come on. It’s not like it’s Michelle Williams. Or maybe it is, why ruin the little secret. I guess it was kind of cool how it all went down, and the idea of the wicked witch crying was a nice little touch. I guess the flying monkey / scarecrow fight had an epic-battle feel to it. If someone wants to pay for the ticket, I’ll give it a shot in 3D, maybe just going for the visuals, not hoping it to live up to The Wizard of Oz or Return to Oz, knowing it was just another Disney requel (reboot/sequel/prequel) like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, basically, I’d lower my expectations if I were you.

Is it me or did the wicked witch get sexier?
Is it me or did the wicked witch get sexier?

Oz the Great and Powerful
Based on the Oz series by L. Frank Baum
Disney PicturesDirected by Sam Ramie
2013 

(The Wizard of Oz)
(Based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1900)
 (Directed by Victor Fleming)
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
(1939)

(Return to Oz)
(Based on The Land of Oz, 1904, and Ozma of Oz, 1907, by L. Frank Baum)  
(Directed by Walter Murch)
(Walt Disney Pictures)
(1985)

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