Oz the Great and Powerful Review: 99 Problems and a Witch… is pretty much all of them

oz-the-great-and-powerful-poster4I’d like to preface this review by mentioning that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a movie theater start playing the wrong movie.  Not just any movie, mind you, but the IMAX premier of a major blockbuster.  It took the theater 10 full minutes of Jack the Giant Slayer to finally switch over to the right movie, though I can’t say I’m complaining since Regal Cinemas does a great job at giving out free passes whenever anything goes wrong on their end.  But back to the project at hand.  I’ve always liked the original Wizard of Oz and know it pretty well considering I played in the Pit Orchestra for the Drama department’s production of it in high school (yeah, I’m that cool).  I’m not exactly in love with the film, but I nevertheless recognized the incredible feat it would be to bring back the land of Oz in a way that both pleases modern audiences and respects the legacy of the original classic.   Now that the movie has been released, the question stands;  can movie-geek favorite director Sam Raimi pull it off?  The answer is yes… mostly.  It occasionally struggles with mixing the whimsical, semi-cheesy tone of the source material and will never be remembered in the same way that The Wizard of Oz is to this day, but sharp writing and incredible visuals make Oz the Great and Powerful the first truly worthwhile blockbuster of 2013.

The Plot:

A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one

We're not in Kansas anymore (Thank God...)

We’re not in Kansas anymore (Thank God…)

I’d like to note that I’m not very familiar with Wicked and the back story it provided the witches of Oz, but for the most part it seems like Oz the Great and Powerful does not acknowledge either aside from some basic elements of the plot.  While this may dismay some fans of that book/musical, I will at least say that I thought the movie did a good job of providing the origin story of the wizard himself consistent with the character from the original film

The Players:

It's a wonder he didn't end up hitting on Dorothy

It’s a wonder he didn’t end up hitting on Dorothy

While I can easily see a lot of people turned of by James Franco’s slightly over-the-top sleaziness, I thought he was a great fit for the role of Oscar aka Oz.  After all, the wizard is essentially a fraud, relying on cheap tricks and illusions to convey the appearance of power rather than possessing any real power himself.  The situation of “con-man pretending to be something he’s not until he’s in over his head” has definitely been very well tread at this point, but Franco’s charm and some great companion characters (Zach Braff as Finley and Joey King as China Girl) make it all work in the movie’s favor.

It's way easier to be evil when you're British

It’s way easier to be evil when you’re British

The real problems come with the witches themselves.  While the casting here is all spot on, the tone issues I’ll dive into in the next section make them some of the weakest parts of the film.  I love all three actresses, and I can’t imagine many people who would have fit their parts better (other than Kunis, but I won’t spoil anything even though it’s pretty much already been spoiled for most of you).  Rachel Weisz is almost too perfect for her role, as the legitimate evil feeling she brings goes a bit against the cackling “I’ll get you my pretty” style of evil we expect from a witch of Oz.  Michelle Williams also seems almost too perfect for her role as Glenda, the Good Witch of the South, but it’s as if the movie couldn’t decide whether to keep her as the simpering goodie-two-shoes of the original or to give her a bit more of a human personality, and she ends up as an awkward mix of both.

The Legacy:

Still more intelligent than Movie 43

Still more intelligent than Movie 43

The Wizard of Oz is one of those classic pieces of  american culture that has the same barriers to modernizations as The Three Stooges had when it was remade last year.  The style and the tone of the film is unique to a particular era of film making, and any attempt to make a modern version of it has to make a choice whether or not to try to stay true to the voice of the original movie and alienate modern moviegoers or adapt the voice to the 21st century and betray the true spirit of the original work.  In the case of The Three Stooges, The Farrelly Brothers tried to stay as close to the pure, unadultrated slapstick humor of the original characters, and while the result ended up being a modest critical and financial success it will never be remembered on anywhere near the same level as those original characters are.

Glenda vs. Eleanor is still no Dumbledor vs. Voldemort

Glenda vs. Eleanor is still no Dumbledore vs. Voldemort

Oz the Great and Powerful tries to split the middle between faithful representation and modernization, and the end result is… awkward.  I think a lot of people will appreciate the attempts the movie makes to stay true to the 1939 classic, but those attempts still seem very out of place when combined with the modern styles of comedy and suspense they are surrounded by.  Ultimately, I think a lot of people will enjoy this movie but it’s lack of a real identity for itself will prevent many people from remembering it for long.

The Verdict:  7.5/10  -  Superior

+ Breathtaking visuals, by far the best modern contribution to the merry old land of Oz

+ Franco fits his role very well, even if he is occasionally a bit over the top

+ Very sharp and occasionally very funny writing, particularly in Braff & King’s characters

- Definitely feels like The Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland (2011)

Critical Consensus:

Rotten Tomatoes: 59%

IMDb: 7.1/10

Metacritic: 44/100

Other Reviews:

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A-

i’m a movie nerd:  “Oz IS Great and Powerful”

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.0/10

My Reel POV: “Worth A Watch”

Committed to Celluloid: 3.5/5

Devils Advocates Movie Reviews: 3.5/5

Amonymous Reviews: 3.5/5

The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5

Black Sheep Reviews: 3.5/5

The Focused Filmographer: 3/5

CinEnemA: 2.5/5

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews: C+

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About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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25 Responses to Oz the Great and Powerful Review: 99 Problems and a Witch… is pretty much all of them

  1. Nice review. I’m going to see this today, and no matter how many mixed reviews it gets (it’s at 58% on rotten tomatoes, last I checked), I’m only going to grow more excited. The trailers look like a promising, rejuvenating thrill, and I’m sure everything it says about the top-notch 3D is true (especially with a 200 million dollar budget haha).

    • r361n4 says:

      I really do think you’ll at least enjoy it, even if you’re not necessarily blown away. I will say that this is the first movie in ages that I liked the 3D aspect of, it is worth it if you can see it in IMAX

  2. Nice review Andy. I hadn’t really given this much consideration but I might decide to check it out. Doesn’t sound as bad as I expected it to be.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Andy. It’s not a terrible movie, but nothing special either. It was just nice to be back in Oz and see it for all of it’s wonderful beauty it had to display.

  4. barronlouise says:

    Nice Review Andy, Im going to see this movie next week, i couldn’t believe it’s now showing after months of waiting, yes because of Raimi and Oz, i feel bad for Raimi tho, his new film is being received negatively, i bet this is a 200m film?

    • r361n4 says:

      It most certainly is, but it’s looking like it will probably recoup it’s budget at least. We’ll see when the box office numbers come in this weekend, but I do agree with you that it’s unfortunate the movie is being received so negatively.

  5. sati says:

    Nice review! I don”t much like Franco, but the three actresses are the reasons why I will see it next week.

    • r361n4 says:

      Honestly, all three have been a lot better in other things but it’s still great to see them in whatever they do. I’m interested to hear what you think :)

  6. mettelray says:

    So.. on a less related topic, how was 10 minutes of Jack the Giant Slayer? :D

    • r361n4 says:

      lol, just about as bad as the first time I watched it. Only in 3D

      • mettelray says:

        Hah. I’ve never seen a wrong movie start .. I’ve seen the movie being only 10% on the screen but that was fixed in about 10 minutes as well. But a guy in the cinema had to tell the people that – as they don’t seem to check their screenings after they’ve started. :/

      • r361n4 says:

        Lol, nearly half the people in the theater went out to ask the management at some point or another, it felt like when one person checks a door and says it’s locked and then everyone else still feels the need to check it for themselves

      • mettelray says:

        They lock the doors? Woah. I haven’t experienced locked doors…

  7. Nice review, man. I’m watching this one tomorrow!

  8. Mark Hobin says:

    I’m amazed at how positive the reviews have been on the blogs I read in contrast with the mostly negative ones I’ve seen on metacritic. You really enjoyed this. Your 7.5 is one of the highest scores anywhere. I must say I am on the fence. There are just as many pros as cons to this film. My review is forthcoming.

    I suspect this will be a big hit though. It manages to entertain despite its many flaws.

    • r361n4 says:

      I’m definitely interested in what you think and I really can understand why a lot of people will be disappointed by this one. I guess for one thing my expectations were a bit on the low side just because of how terrible movies seem to have been this year, but I had a lot of fun with it all the same. I’m interested in seeing what the box office haul ends up being this weekend

  9. I dont know that this lacked identity, Andy. I thought this movie – while obviously, nothing comparable to the original – was a fun March offering. Big budget modern effects, a fun story, and lots of colorful characters. Families are going to eat this one up!

    • r361n4 says:

      Definitely agree with you about family audiences, it felt like Oz tried to do everything Jack the Giant Slayer tried to do but it actually worked this time. Great review yourself btw :)

  10. I.V.Holtzman says:

    This film was more than I expected. More than I imagined. In particular, there’s the moment when we first see the China Doll Girl. I can’t think when I’ve cried harder at any scene in any film. Oz is a charlatan, a fraud. He can’t do real magic. He can’t work real miracles. But finally, for the first time in his life, he’s presented with a task within his means. A chance to do real good. Heart is what makes a story great. Baum and Tolkien and Roddenberry and Lucas understood that. Pity so few modern moviemakers do. This movie is that rare exception. It has heart.

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