OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Starring James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobb.Directed by Sam Raimi. Rated PG (Mild fantasy violence and some scary scenes) 130 minutes.
If you have never read any of Frank L. Baum's Oz novels and have only seen The Wizard of Oz, you may have wondered who the wizard actually was and how he finished up with his tricks in the Emerald City. Here is your answer.
Sam Raimi, after his Spiderman films (which starred James Franco in two of them), has opted for a lavish fantasy. His writers have also suggested a parallel with Oscar (the wizard) and his experience with that of Dorothy. Oscar is a carnival showman-conman in Kansas in 1905 – and the sequences are filmed in black and white and box-size screen like the 1939 film. Frank (Zach Braff) is Oscar's put-upon assistant. Annie (Michelle Williams) is in love with Oscar but has received another proposal. He is prepared to let her go. Both Frank and Annie will reappear in Oz.
When Oscar cannot help a crippled girl to walk, the crowds pursue him and he escapes in a hot-air balloon and, like Dorothy, he is whirled away in a powerful storm – and lands in Oz. We are not quite familiar with this Oz. It is beautiful and colourful (and there are Munchkins). There is the Emerald City and the yellow brick road. But the characters there are different.
Oz is ruled by an evil but beautiful (it is Rachel Weisz) witch, Evanora. She has a nice sister, Theodora (Mila Kunis) who is instantly attracted to Oscar. The word is that Glinda, the daughter of the former ruler, had murdered her father. We guess at once that it was really Evanora who did it. A flying monkey, Finley, also turns up and becomes Oscar's assistant, lugging around his bag of tricks. Finley is voiced by Zach Braff and is the equivalent of Frank. The crippled girl appears again in the form of a china doll that Oscar rescues and repairs and who joins in the fight against Evanora.
They tell Oscar that there is a prophecy that he will turn up and save the people of Oz. However, he is more interested in himself, gold and getting out of there in his balloon.
But, matters do not go well. Evanora takes over her sister who has perceived Oscar as abandoning her. By a sinister transformation, Theodora turns into the Wicked Witch of the West, bent on revenge on Oscar. But, we do remember who Glinda, the good witch is – and she is played by Michelle Williams.
The rest of the film tells how Glinda sees good in Oscar, how they join good forces to combat Evanora (without any deaths). Which means that Oscar has to delve into that bag of tricks. He becomes the Wizard and defeats the enemies, especially through that device we remember from The Wizard of Oz, his projecting his image and voice on a big screen, while he is hidden behind the curtains. Everything is in place for the arrival of Dorothy and her story.
It was all filmed in very effective 3D. The sets are wonderful. The action is most entertaining. James Franco seems to be enjoying himself as Oscar. Rachel Weisz is a convincing villain and Michelle Williams a very nice heroine. There is something strange about Mila Kunis both as the good Theodora and very strange, and unconvincing, as the Wicked Witch.
Hard to know whether the planning of the film intended it for younger audiences or not, or for older audiences. There is a lot to admire and enjoy, but overall, it is not quite.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out: March 7, 2013.