Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful has been a long time coming. Production of the film began in July 2011, but was it worth the wait?
It certainly seems like the prequel to Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a good choice of adaptation, as figures show the film has earned just under $162.5 million worldwide since its release.
Like the infamous 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, the opening sequence is in black and white and set in Kansas. This is where we are first introduced to wizard Oscar “Oz” Diggs, played by James Franco, although he isn’t as magical as he leads people to believe, instead living his life as a deceitful conman in a travelling circus.
During his performance in Kansas, Diggs is ridiculed by the suspecting audience when he says he cannot cure a wheel-chair bound girl. He is portrayed as nothing but a fraudster who seeks money, fame and power whilst seducing any woman who crosses his path. Unfortunately, when he tries wooing the circus strongman’s wife, he picks the wrong man to miss with…
Diggs is chased out of the circus and escapes in a hot-air balloon, only to fly into a tornado. The tornado sequence is visually made for 3D, with objects flying at the balloon and missing Diggs by inches. The sequence is enhanced by the fact that it is in black and white, adding to the eeriness of the situation and giving the sense that Diggs really is in grave danger.
When the weather calms Diggs eventually arrives in Oz, which is visually beautiful as the film transitions into colour. The land is inhabited by several strange creatures and we are introduced individually to a trio of witches, played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. Diggs is soon informed that he is the wizard prophesised to rid Oz of the Wicked Witch. But which witch is bad? Well part of the film’s fun is working that out.
The film benefits from a brilliant cast. From James Franco to the three witches, you can see why Raimi decided to halt production on the film whilst this cast had other commitments rather than recasting roles. Each character makes a great transition throughout the film and, although it would have been nice to see Diggs act a bit more remorseful of his bad deeds, the cast has no weak link with it being clear that each actor has paid close attention to previous representations of their characters.
There are a few references to the much-loved The Wizard of Oz. We briefly see a cowardly lion and Diggs assists in the creation of an army of mechanical scarecrows. In an extremely clever moment we even see that one of the witch’s tears burn her cheeks.
Another nice touch was that, like the 1939 film, there are many people who feature both in Kansas and Oz. Michelle Williams plays both Annie, a girl from Diggs’ past who comes back to give him one last chance to marry her, and one of the witches. The wheelchair-bound little girl from Kansas reappears in Oz as a china doll with broken legs and Zach Braff appears in Kansas as Oscar’s assistant and voices the flying monkey, Finley, in Oz.
Fans of the 1939 film may wish to see more of these references, but Oz the Great and Powerful is a standalone film and it’s nice that Raimi didn’t feel the need to inundate us with unnecessary references just for the sake of it.
The biggest downfall of the film has to be its pace. It’s only two hours long but the plot is quite slow going to start with. We don’t see the land of Oz until we’re twenty minutes in and it doesn’t really pick up the pace until we meet all three witches and know who is good and who is bad.
Whilst the surroundings of Oz can be beautiful to look at, at times the visual effects can be disorientating, some sequences are so quick that they actually made me feel dizzy. I also felt that at times the CGI was a bit too heavy and could take away the focus of what was going on on-screen.
However, I feel that overall, Oz the Great and Powerful is a good film for all of the family with a solid script. With rumours that a sequel with the same cast has already been approved, I can’t wait to see what Disney plan to do with these characters next.