Sunday, March 24, 2013

How Great & Powerful IS Oz?

Perhaps a few weeks late from its opening, but I finally saw the film "Oz The Great and Powerful". I had tried to stay away from comments about it online, but already had heard the rumblings of it not being 'so great'. Well, I take a slightly different view on it.

First, let me say that director Sam Raimi and his team have paid a beautiful homage to "The Wizard of Oz" for which his film is a prequel. Set 20 years prior to Dorothy dropping her house on a witch (presumably in case the team wanted to create yet another film prior to the iconic one), in many ways they have stayed very true to what we all remember and love from the original. Unlike what happened with the Star Wars prequels, I felt this could have been the same team if the 1939 MGM team had been whisked away in a tornado to 2013. The black and white opening in Kansas stays in tact. We meet actors that will appear later in Oz. And when we get there, the colors and CGI effects are vibrant and beautifully just as technicolor was to an audience of days gone by. I also want to give a huge shout out to Danny Elfman for an original score that evokes the 1939 film.

When the now classic film first appeared, it wasn't a well-recieved movie. That is hard for us to fathom now, but it took years for it to become the classic  that we know. I'm not saying this movie is headed in that same direction, but I think that should be remembered when people start out reviews by bashing the movie on the screen today.

Though L. Frank Baum never wrote a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" (he wrote many sequels), writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire have taken on the task and stayed true to the tone of what Baum had done. We all know the Wizard was nothing but a fake at the end of the original film, but what got him there? What was his wants and desires? And what would cause a man to stay in this land? Enter a womanizing fake of a magician to answer those questions for us. While I appreciate the backstory of Oz (known as Oscar Diggs), James Franco didn't quite get there for me in the film. I've heard that Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp were the first choices and I can only imagine what each of them could have brought to the role. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy James Franco in movies. I just never felt his plight in this one. 

I did however enjoy the secondary characters and thought Zach Braff and Joey King were wonderful sidekicks. While others have complained about the casting of the three witches, I actually found this film in a way to be more about the power of these women and less about the great and powerful Oz. The women are all sitting around waiting for a man to save them and yet they seem they could get by on their own without any man. With just a few script changes and we have a great female empowerment tale. (Just saying.) Michele Williams, Mila Kunis, and Rachel Weisz give there own take on witches we've met before and some we never knew. (Don't forget: Dorothy's house fell on one of them.)

Wicked The Musical
I think the hardest part of this movie for some theater people to take is how to settle in their mind how "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire fits into the equation. Many people love the musical based on that book and because the stage version did such a great job at combing Maguire's book with the original movie, we have it in our heads that is the backstory. Just like the writers of "Oz the Great and Powerful", Maguire had created his own prequel to tell this well known children's tale (and rumor has it his version may soon be on the big screen too).

For me, I took this movie for what it was and allowed it to take me on the twister of emotions that can at times thrill, pull at the heart string, and occasionally have me looking at my watch.

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