The nineteenth official film adaptation of the beloved children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, finds itself in the hands of American film director Sam Raimi. Best known for his work in the Evil Dead series and the Spider-Man trilogy, the filmmaker’s flair for special effects and confidence in handling big-budget productions comes in very handy for his latest undertaking.
Thanks to him, Oz the Great and Powerful – the prequel to the 1939 Judy Garland classic, The Wizard of Oz – is enchanting and visually stunning; and although the Yellow Brick Road has a few potholes, the overall effect is more than gratifying.
The fairytale’s lively opening sequence, filmed in black and white, is set in Kansas and has been moved back to 1905, long before Dorothy and her little dog Toto began their adventure.
We meet Oscar Diggs, aka ‘Oz’ (Franco); a Casanova-type swindler and carnival magician who, along with his unappreciated assistant Frank (Braff), spends more time seducing innocent young girls than he does perfecting his ambiguous tricks. After reluctantly breaking things off with his part-time girlfriend Annie (Williams), he hops into a hot-air balloon, skilfully escaping the clasp of a strongman who Oz has managed to get pretty mad.
After just barely taking off, Oz is swept up by a storm and comes to eventually land in the magical land of ‘Oz’. Thanking the heavens for surviving and for being given a second chance to do good, Oz soon stumbles upon the witch, Theodora (Kunis); a beautiful girl who, along with her sister-witch, Evanora (Weisz), has been guarding the Emerald City from the firm grasp of the wicked witch Glinda (Williams). Theodora informs him of an ancient prophecy that predicts a great wizard, with immense power, would fall from the sky and save their land from evil. Attracted by the prospect of being the ‘one’, Oz takes on the challenge, without knowing the truth that lies behind the three witches of Oz and their beloved land.
Considering the story has already seen numerous spin-offs and renderings since its first debut in 1900, this is a job well done. The screenplay, written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, is fresh and straightforward. Oz is filled with many whimsical characters, including flying monkeys, vicious baboons and talking china-doll, along with heaps of wit.
The plot’s momentum starts off pretty strong and although it comes almost to a grinding halt midway through the film, it picks itself up quickly and finishes off strong.
Nonetheless, its major success lies in the dazzling visuals. Taking full advantage of 3D technology, the enchanting land of Oz is transformed into one big sugary treat. From the mesmerising opening sepia-toned swirly sequence, to the luxuriant colours of the gardens of Oz; the effects are spectacular and at times breathtaking.
Looking extremely uncomfortable in his own skin, Franco’s turnout wasn’t so grand. With a permanent grin plastered on his face, this eccentric role doesn’t feel like a good fit. Luckily for him, the witches pick up the slack. Topping the list is Weisz, who is ravishing in her role of the ferocious Evanora, and as the ‘wicked witch’ Glinda, Williams shines. Kunis, unfortunately, fails to tap into the witch inside of her all that well.
Oz the Great and Powerful‘s charms are aplenty and although not as grand or as magical as the 1939 classic, it still manages to stand on its own.