Saturday, March 9, 2013

"I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Oz the Great and Powerful

By employing a 4:3 aspect ratio, softly rendered black-and-white, and gray mattes depicting a drab Kansas farmland, Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful immediately alludes to The Wizard of Oz and taps into all our nostalgic associations with that 1939 classic. In fact, the opening vignette, in which James Franco plays a carnival charlatan called Oz the Great and Powerful, is the best part of the film. The carnival setting, the pathos generated by a crippled girl who begs the Great and Powerful to make her walk, and Michelle Williams as Oz’s sweetheart who sees no future staying with the rootless showman, all these elements make us feel like we’re watching a 1930s film. Indeed, full close-ups of Williams’s face and her poignant delivery suggest that she would have been a screen star in the golden era of film. You find yourself wishing the film would continue to emulate the look and tenor of that decade in film, but then the tornado whisks us into a 2.40:1 CGI 3D fantasyland that is not as dazzling.

Sam Raimi’s Oz is an odd Oz. The CGI landscapes are flat and too colorful, so much so that you imagine the green screen set up behind the performers. There are funny characters that are not so funny, and wicked witches that are not so scary. In this origin story for Evanora/the Wicked Witch of the East (Rachel Weisz)and Theodora/the Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis), the film strikes a couple of spooky chords with the silhouette of Theodora transforming into the sharp-featured West Witch. This is the film’s most chilling moment, much scarier than full-on close-ups of Kunis’s puffy pea-green face.

For the most part, this is slow-paced children’s fare that tries too hard to be endearing. Although Michelle Williams’s overly sweet act as Glinda begins to grow on you, Franco’s overacting wears thin. The best visual is an amazingly lifelike but oddly creepy china doll saved from a massacre at China Town perpetrated by the not-so-fearsome flying baboons, not monkeys. (Guess they evolve into monkeys later on.) The scene in which Oz fixes the little doll’s broken legs with glue is quite touching, but the scene in which she asks Oz to tuck her into bed at night is rather uncomfortable. Overall, the film features some engaging moments, but there is not enough in its over-long length to call it much of a success.


Steve's Blog said...

I couldn't agree more. The opening is the best part of the film, the camera appropriately stilted as it meanders through the carnival setting and introduces the film's hero. Franco seems uncomfortable in the period garb and uneasy with the CGI effects around him. And Mila Kunis was downright embarrassing as the witch. You can practically hear Raimi yell, "Action!," as she cackles and screams. Much of the production seemed amateurish, but without the charm of what a low-budget crew may have produced.

After being exhilarated by Jack slaying giants, Oz was a definite letdown. It makes me want to revisit the beanstalk again before I have another lapse of giving up on big-budget special-effects-laden fare.

Hokahey said...

Steve - thanks.

We just had a former colleague over for dinner - Miss Allison - and I was telling her that I was recently considering giving up the blog, but she told me that she reads EVERY post and makes a list of the movies she plans to see on DVD. I told her that I would continue doing the blog for her - and for you because you faithfully check it out and post comments. I appreciate that. Also, like me, you see EVERYTHING!

I like your comments here. Franco does look very uncomfortable acting against a green screen. On top of that, the CGI is rather shoddy. The scene in which Oz walks through a field of sunflowers with a blurry background hearkens back to the early days of poorly done CGI.

Sam Juliano said...

Count me in in the "don't give up the blog" fraternity Hokahey as well! I aldo check in here regularly, but sadly have not posted as many comments as I would like. But I will do better in the future. I pretty much agree with your observations in this excellently-written assessment. Here are the terms I'd use to describe Disney's OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL: a colossal bore, inert, bloated, charmless, unattractively mounted, awkwardly paced, oddly unemotional and James Franco as poorly miscast as he's been in his career.I am one of the biggest THE WIZARD OF OZ fans in the blogosphere, but this re-application of some of the same characters and situations is wholly forgettable. To be fair there were a few good ideas, but they add up to little.

Hokahey said...

Sam, I will not give up the blog! I would miss your delightful and most appreciative comments.

Your comments on OZ are right on. Yes, it was "oddly unemotional." Franco was definitely miscast. He either stretched his face in a grotesque grin or spoke like his face was paralyzed. Also, with the china doll, the Munchkins bursting into silly song, and those weird tinkers, as well as the friendly monkey with the bell-hop's hat, the movie was just plain ODD.

Dan O. said...

Good review. Numerous components travel on, off, and around the screen, while the Land of Oz is as colorful as a fantasy can get. It is a bit much at times, but it grows with the picture.