04/03/2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Sequels and prequels to films only a few years old always seem like a chance to wring more money out of its popularity and considering The Wizard of Oz is one of the most watched films of all time, few were expecting much from Oz the Great and Powerful. Expectation plummeted further when the trailers, images and posters released were an assault on the eyes and did nothing but remind people of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland; a roundly terrible film that somehow became the thirteenth highest-grossing film of all time. But thankfully, mercifully even, this is much better.

James Franco took time out from making important documentaries and critiquing university professors to play Oscar Diggs; a two-bit magician who treats his only friend (Zach Braff) like a slave and gives every pretty girl nearby the same crap music box and bullshit story to use them how he pleases. After fleeing from an angry boyfriend looking to pulverize Diggs for presumably tapping his lady, he dives into a hot air balloon that's quickly dragged into a tornado that transports him to Oz. After the black and white opening Oz is a veritable clusterfuck of colour complete with odd looking little CGI creatures that confuse more than entertain since it's obvious Franco had to act opposite a tennis ball on a bit of string. Then again, he has worked with Sienna Miller.

The only way Sam Raimi was going to make this work is if the story, script and acting matched up to the barmy - albeit impressive - visuals and it does, but only just. Although it's clearly aimed at the kiddie/family market the script is brimming with wit and charm that had the adults present in the screening I attended producing very loud guffaws. Most of the laughter comes from Finley, the flying monkey (also Braff), who's tricked into dedicating his life to the magician. As he has the humour covered the more sinister elements are left to the three witches (Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis) and the transformation of one into the iconic wicked witch of the west. Here's where it gets slighter weaker as the unconvincing sinister witches look like they'd be better suited to panto, which is annoying when you consider how genuinely nasty Margaret Hamilton was in 1939.

It's a minor gripe as Raimi has somehow managed to maintain his style in this $200 million Disney blockbuster and make it surprisingly entertaining which is more than any of us were expecting. Oh, and true to form, this guy shows up:
Always a good thing.