I wasn’t really interested in seeing this movie when it was first announced and was less so after prominent actors like Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. passed on the leading role. In my mind, what was so wrong with this movie that those two top dogs would pass on such a project? Then after James Franco was cast, it didn’t really wet my appetite for making the effort to see this either. However, over the course of the last few weeks before the premiere, the trailers kept – pulling me in. So, since I knew I was going to be out of town anyway, I thought it would be a good time to see a movie – I just hadn’t settled on this one until I was literally at the box office and had to make a choice between Jack The Giant Slayer (which just looked AWFUL with its 2001-looking VFXs, plus Bryan Singer *shiver*) and Oz the Great and Powerful (which didn’t look great, but had the possibility of some potential). So… Oz by a nose.
I’m going to make this simple:
The Good: This was a visual FEAST for the eyes. The transition (like the original movie) from black and white to color was STUNNING. The colors popped out of the screen, the visual effects were terrific, the detail in the landscape was crisp. Even the VFX work done on Finley (Zack Braff), the Flying Monkey and China Girl (Joey King) were top-notch and Oscar worthy in my opinion. Even Knuck (Tony Cox) made me laugh and chuckle wildly at times, but Finely stole the show. There were scenes as Oz (James Franco) entered the realm of Oz (no pun intended, or coincidence it seems) that were breath-taking and absolutely magical. Then there were the inhabitants of Oz that I just simply enjoyed like the Tinkerers (BULLY!), the inhabitants of Oz and, of course, the Munchkins. What I also truly enjoyed was the LACK of musical numbers (Le Miz can suck it) and the distinct feeling, even in a cursory way, that you were actually IN Oz and not just watching something that was checking the box on things that needed to be put in the movie about the Land of Oz.
I even really liked the portrayal of the witches. Theodora (Mila Kunis) had a certain innocent sex appeal and charm, but with tinges of menace surrounding her. Evanora (Rachel Weisz), her sister, is undoubtedly a dastardly character and that’s evident from the second you see her on screen. Then there’s Glinda (Michelle Williams) the Good Witch, who is – well – good. There’s this tri-party battle that is the subtext to the main plot with the witches that is slight divergence from how the witches were originally portrayed. Now this isn’t bad, just different, and it doesn’t take away from the story in any way. At least not to me.
Even when the green-faced witch (as my daughter calls her) finally emerges, there’s a sort of pleasant nostalgia that takes you back to your youth and reminds you of the time when you first saw The Wizard of Oz probably on the living room TV when UHF held meaning, on some VHS tape your parents dusted off or even on a more recent collector’s anniversary DVD set.
The Bad: James Franco. Honestly, he was just miscast for this role. Don’t get me wrong. James Franco is a fine actor, but – he’s limited. Like his hosting duties at the Oscars a few years ago, he seemed like he was the fumbling guy trying to make people laugh at the party, but making people wryly smirk instead. He just seemed to be uncomfortable in his own skin. It seemed at times like he wasn’t sure if he should smile, frown, scowl or – blink at any given moment. The one thing a lot of critics give singers when they’re performing on stage is, “don’t think about singing, just be the song and sing it – be the song.” That would have been my advice as Sam Raimi directing this movie, “stop thinking about the scene and just LIVE in the scene – don’t be James Franco playing Oz, BE Oz.” because it felt to many times like he was just in it for the money and couldn’t really give his all to the role. Maybe some sour grapes about being the 3rd man on the starring role list? I don’t know. Either way, HE was one of the main issues with this movie.
The Ugly: Quite frankly, I’ve seen this movie before. Now, I really wasn’t expecting to see some masterpiece of storytelling, but I didn’t expect to be led almost down the same path as before. I saw that movie before – and it was called, The Wizard of Oz. Again, there were twists throw in surrounding the witches that wasn’t surprising so much as interesting, and of course there were some tempo and pacing issues that would have deserved another edit or two – but overall, this movie was sort of a modern-day rehash of the 1938 classic. At least The Wiz gave me another vision of the concept to chew the fat on.
In truth, I’m a bigger fan of The Wiz than I ever was of The Wizard of Oz. It was just more fun movie experience for me.
This movie reminded me in some ways of Superman Returns (directed by Bryan *shiver* Singer, coincidentally) in the fact that it felt like an ode to the original property (in that case, Richard Donner’s, Superman and Superman II) without a lot of the charm the originals had. Again, this movie had charm, but there were aspects of this that did have a lot to be desired, specifically regarding James Franco’s performance. However, I will say that the KIDS won’t really mind and may even enjoy the movie a lot. I don’t tell people at what age they should take their kids to see certain movies, but I will say that even with a PG rating, I probably won’t let my six year old see this for another year or so. There were a few scenes that I know will scare the cavities off of her teeth and will have to make me wrangle her out of my bed and into hers at night.
With all this said, just go and enjoy the movie, but recognize – it has funny moments and a whimsical appeal, but – it’s flawed in many ways.
Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars