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From The Evil Dead To Disney....
A magician finds himself transported to the magical land of Oz, where witches, flying monkeys and yellow brick roads exist. He is mistaken for the saviour of Oz and must decide whether or not to stay and be king, or leave and find his way home.
I love Sam Raimi, the man and his invented work with a camera are what made me want to get into filmmaking in the first place. So to see him handling big projects like this (and Spiderman) was a joy for me to see. Oz the Great & Powerful is a CGI heavy film that demands a creative eye behind the lens. After his work on big budget films like Spiderman, it seemed like an easy choice for Raimi to be the one behind Oz and for the most part, it works. The films shortcomings keep it from being really magical and memorable, like the original from 39, but Oz has enough whimsy to keep the kids entertained and the adults smiling.
The land of Oz is indeed magical, with vibrant colours around every corner, memorable spots like the poppy fields and the dark forest for us older viewers, but even in saying all that I can't help but feel how fake it all is. This film suffers from the same troubles that plagued Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the visuals, although great for the story, add no sense of realism to the image. I hate overly used CGI in films to the point of noticing the awkward placement of actors in front of the green screen. The first major offender of this is Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, none of the actors made me believe they were in the settings they were. Both Wonderland and Oz have this same feeling.
While I'm getting the negatives out of the way, I must say that what everyone is saying about Mila Kunis is true, she was miscast in this role. I think she was chosen more for her beauty and star power than her acting abilities, which is sad cause it looks like she really is trying here. The story for her character here is a sad one and the second half I think suffers a bit because the threat from her is not really present. I don't really know why I'm tip-toeing around the issue because those who know The Wizard of Oz, know that Dorothy kills one witch with her house and the other with water, leaving Glinda the good witch in a bubble as the saviour. Seeing the Kunis character go in the direction she does didn't really effect me as much as I wanted it to. Consider that the failure of the script more so than the actors. Not enough time is really given to her for her transformation to affect the viewer.
The film opens in black & white and and the transformation to colour had a smile on my face. Despite the "fakeness" of some of the scenes (not all) Raimi does a decent job of not letting the effects overpower the film. Raimi steers the film in the right direction, but it is James Franco's shoulders it has to rest on. He is the type of actor that comes off as not really caring. It works in some films like Pineapple Express and he does manage to turn in some great performances, look at 127 days or Freaks & Geeks for that. Unfortunately I don't know if he has enough charisma and power to command a film like this. At times it looked like he was in the role, other times it felt like he couldn't care. Maybe it's his acting style, I can't really put my finger on it, but clearly Raimi sees something in him because he has worked with him previously on the Spiderman films.
Where the acting does work, marvellously and in every scene is Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. Two polar opposites that look like they actually enjoy the characters and the movie they are in. They elevate the material a bit to make the drama more tangible. Whereas without them I think the film would have fallen more flat. The drama and character choices didn't really bring me into the story. The film didn't feel like it took chances, or tried to have complex situations for the characters. It had mapped out beats, hit them and marched on.
It was nice seeing some nice Raimi touches in the final product. More than 25 years later and I still smile when I see Bruce Campbell getting hit in the face, knowing full well that it is Sam Raimi on the other end of the camera hitting him. Surprisingly, moments did indeed feel Evil Deadish to me, with the flying witches holding out their hands in a deadite possession form. But I digress. Oz is a good film, with weaknesses that bring it down. Raimi and two witches try their best to elevate some bland material and in the end we are left with a film that is neither great, nor memorable....just satisfactory enough.