‘If you can make them believe, you’re wizard enough.’
Nice line. Too bad the man behind the pompously titled Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t quite live up to it.
Director Sam Raimi, of The Evil Dead and Spider-Man franchise, sure creates some arresting visuals and jolts our senses with equal glee. But his bag of fierce and fascinating tricks runs out of ideas too early in the movie that works as a prelude to a sacrosanct classic in Hollywood history.
If the 1939 Victor Fleming classic, The Wizard of Oz, adapted from L Frank Baum’s beloved book is about a Kansas girl discovering unlikely friendship, astonishing adventures, lasting courage and the significance of that marvellous place called ‘home,’ Oz strives to establish the back story that forms the mystique of Oz, his enduring legend across Emerald City until Dorothy Gale pays a visit.
And since Baum wrote a series of books about this land, Raimi and his team of writers and visual artists have plenty of dough to weave a landscape around the same.
An elegant play of cut-outs line its opening credits, leading us into the black and white, 4:3 aspect ratio world of the Braum Bros Circus (hat-tip to the original Father of Oz). Here we meet, Kansas-resident Oscar Diggs ‘Oz’ (James Franco) — an ambitious, self-seeking (with just enough heart to show he’ll turn around) carnival magician with a roving eye and modest talents.
Just like Dorothy, a rampant tornado draws a hot-air balloon bound Oscar into the breathtaking, multicoloured vistas of Oz. The 3D serves its purpose beautifully in this transition from dizzying aggression to illuminated imagery.
Specks of delicate snow descend upon Oscar’s stunned countenance at a poetic pace before he (along with the 3D-glasses donned viewer) glides down an enormous waterfall only to find himself surrounded by vibrant, blooming specimens and fairies of the flower kingdom. (Snow White and The Huntsman, too, had a similar sequence but far more superior in imagination and execution.)
This one’s like watching one of those high-definition advertisements that harp on the visual advancement in television technology — flawless yet disconcertingly unreal.
Surreal takes a break so that Oscar can introduce himself to a gorgeous witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis). She tells him about a prophecy which insists a wizard will come from nowhere and rescue their land from the wrath of The Wicked Witch of the East. It’s all very Alice in Wonderland but with twists that are more Abbas-Mustan than Tim Burton.
Lured by a treasure vault (that looks like Smaug’s wallet) and the sweet-talking of Theodora’s equally bewitching sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Oscar sets out on a quest to slay the wicked witch, with a winged monkey (voiced by Zach Braff doing a breathless, witless Eddie Murphy) in tow.
Their Shrek-inspired adventure guides them to China Town where Oscar, in perhaps the most genuine moments of this entire fantasy, fixes a porcelain doll’s (in Abigal Spencer’s sweet as a chocolate fudge voice) broken legs with glue. The CGI, here, is truly awe-worthy for blending together the quality of heart with vision.
Soon enough Oscar meets the third and (sort of) final witch – Glinda, the Good one (Michelle Williams) and one thing leads to another compelling them to take an actual leap of faith. And what a plunge it turns out to be. Thereon, it’s futile to wait for a real plot to happen.
What you can expect though is a whole lot of stereotyped elements that have become keywords of this genre – enchanted apples, evil brunettes, goodhearted blondes, last minute change of heart, fellowship of underdogs, and battle of noise over wits. Even the usually reliable composer Danny Elfman doesn’t seem to be in the mood to oblige this half-hearted fantasy with his trademark enchantment.
All this would seem a little less unintelligent if it wasn’t played out by a bunch of Academy-award winning/nominated actors at their awful best in roles they could really have fun with.
Mila Kunis is an exceptionally attractive woman but once she gets into prosthetics, she transforms into a caricature louder than Ursula, Cruella and Maleficent put together.
Weisz looks drop-dead gorgeous in her sequinned black and bottle green gown but she opts to overact in a role screaming for a variant of Nicole Kidman’s cold, glossy menace in The Golden Compass.
Most disappointing, however, is Michelle Williams with her annoying display of synthetic kindness. Unless her brief is to blend with the picture-perfect but phony scenery. Or worse still, she’s mocking the incorruptible Glinda. (Bad idea if it isn’t a spoof for Saturday Night Live.)
Franco as the lacklustre Wizard of this fooled-around material is far too content flashing his gummy grin, almost smug and knowing, ‘This is Sam Raimi, man. What did you expect?’ As infuriating that sounds, it’s true.
Other than paying lightweight tributes, Raimi seems more concerned over inserting sudden scares into the screenplay. Every few minutes, some nasty, grotesque monster-faces sprang up from nowhere to startle, courtesy a rather impactful 3D.
Ultimately, of course, this is a Disney film and even Raimi-designed cheap thrills are restricted to a limited quota.
And because this is a Disney film, good wins over evil. My point is does good have to be so boring, unspectacular and dim? Ditto for the baddies. The women on both sides are perfectly capable of handling their own battle. They are witches with wands, for god’s sake, a device they make abundant use of to engage in the climatic Star Warsesque tussle. What’s the need to beg a worthless wizard to butt in and save the day?
Oz the Great and Powerful starts out decently only to collapse into a crazy hotchpotch of CGI-magic, B-grade horror, syrupy Disneyphilia and warped women’s, er witches, lib.
This review was first published on rediff.com.
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