Oz The Great and Powerful

First in a irregular series: Late Movie Reviews. No, not “late” in the sense of movies showing late at night, but “late” in the sense of “everyone who’s going to see this has already done so”. I don’t get to a lot of movies, and by the time I do, they’re usually near the end of their runs, so any reviews I do will be too late for most people to use them as a factor in deciding whether to see the movies. So why do them? Practice. And why not? Maybe there is someone out there on the fence who can benefit.

I use a very simple rating scheme:
– See it
– See it if you can find a matinee
– Skip it

This time: “Oz The Great and Powerful”.

Executive summary: It’s not going to be a classic like “The Wizard of Oz”, but taken on its own terms, it’s a decent way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon. Catch a matinee.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I’ve been planning to see this since it came out, and finally managed to do it over the weekend. Was I blown away? No, but I had a decent time.

Oz lacks the sheer magic of TWoO, but much of that can be chalked up to trying too hard to maintain consistency. Tying Oz’ Kansas love interest to Dorothy Gale comes off as forced, especially since nothing can ever be done with it – perhaps there was some intention to show the events of TWoO from Oz’ perspective that never materialized? Banishing the evil witches was necessary to have them in place for Dorothy, but after hearing “kill, kill, kill” throughout the film, to have them escape comes off as a cop-out (Glinda’s use of the phrase “free us” helps to some extent, but not enough, given that Oz appears to be focused on “kill” right up to the end: shooting fireworks at someone is a pretty emphatic statement of lethal intent.)

Some of the all-but-required links to TWoO did come off well, though. Just as a single example, the brief meeting with a lion early in the film was nicely handled as a tie-in.

As a film of its own, though Oz does well at preserving the spirit of Baum’s books. It’s a standard interpretation of the “hero’s journey” that doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but tells it well. We know how the story is going to end, the fun is in seeing how it gets there.
I’m going to disagree here with the critics who have objected to James Franco’s performance as Oz. I thought he did a wonderful job of portraying the small-time hustler totally out of his depth, but carrying on in the only way he knows how. Yes, his “always on stage” performance was over the top, but that’s the way Oz’ stage persona was. And Franco’s expression of mingled pride and chagrin when Glinda tells him he’s failed at attaining greatness, but has achieved goodness is absolutely perfect.

Final thoughts:

Finley, the flying monkey, does a fine job going down the path of “deliberately annoying sidekick you can’t believe the hero hasn’t strangled” (did that particular character start with Donkey in the “Shrek” movies?) but in the end redeems the part with one word: “Moo”.

The other half of the sidekick duties and merchandising opportunities is China Doll, unquestionably the best female character in the movie – the only one with motivation, action, and good lines.

The scenery of the land of Oz is gorgeous, from the almost Suessian landscapes seen on Oz’ arrival to the Metropolis-inspired Art Deco Emerald City.

Bottom line: Need to get out of the house or fill a quiet weekend? Go see Oz The Great and Powerful. Just leave your memories of The Wizard of Oz home – and don’t pay full price.

2 thoughts on “Oz The Great and Powerful

    • I considered adding a separate “rent or stream it” rating to go somewhere between “skip it” and “matinee”, but decided it was a complication I didn’t want to deal with, since it would mean considering how well the movie would translate to a smaller screen.

      One clarification I should make: I rarely go to 3D movies; this review is based on the 2D version. And yes, there were a couple of places where the scene was clearly designed for 3D, but there was really only one that was so gratuitous that it distracted me.


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