The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Oz the Great and Powrful

A classic novel from author L. Frank Baum that was turned into a classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz is about as iconic as any film out there. No matter the age, it seems everyone's seen it at some point, and for a reason. It is iconic, classic, influential and most of all entertaining. Watching the story, it leaves a lot of ground for background information, how things came to be the way they are.....and you know what that means!!! Prequel!!! Away we go down the Yellow Brick Road with 2013's Oz the Great and Powerful.

It's 1905 Kansas and magician, con man and all around ladies man Oscar 'Oz' Diggs (James Franco) is working with a traveling carnival, typically staying one step ahead of his past troubles. His troubles have caught up to him this time, and he's forced to escape by the only means in front of him; a hot air balloon. Oz escapes, but he's swept up into a tornado and finds himself in a world unlike anything he's ever seen. Full of color, flowers and trees and creatures that just shouldn't be, Oz also meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who reveals she's a witch along with her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz). He's informed that he's the answer to a longtime prophecy, the man who will save the Emerald City.....if he can kill Glinda (Michelle Williams), an evil witch. Seeing the treasure that awaits if he can do it, Oz agrees, setting off to kill the evil witch, but everything isn't quite as it seems in the wonderful land of Oz.

The little touches here linking the 2013 film to the classic 1939 film are evident. The appeal is obvious, and judging by the box office of almost $500 million worldwide, audiences ate up that appeal. Director Sam Raimi does a fine job bringing to life an incredibly stylish world, full of adventure and fantasy. The movie begins in black and white, the frame small and focused. When Oz arrives in this new world, the frame expands to widescreen, colors literally bursting off the screen. It's a nice nod to the 1939 classic without being too obvious about it. Beyond that, it's cool to see the flying monkeys, the Emerald City, the poppy fields, the Oh-We-Oh palace guards, the munchkins, they Yellow Brick Road and so much more. On top of that, we see how Oz becomes the Wizard, how the Wicked Witch of the West becomes the Wicked Witch. Just a lot of little things and forebearers that any fan of the 1939 film should appreciate.

Now I write this next criticism admitting I didn't see 'Oz' in 3-D, IMAX, or 3-D IMAX, just a regular old flat-screen at home. The visuals are insanely good-looking here....but it went a long way for me. At a certain point, it became overkill. We see Oz exploring this world full of flowers, plants, trees, beautiful hills and mountains, caves and forests. Eventually, it felt like the story gets left by the wayside to focus far more on the stylish aspects of the movie. So as good as the visuals are, they come at the expense of the story, and it's the rare occasion that is a positive for me. As Oz assembles a motley crew of helpers and assistants, the story lags while the focus remains on the background visuals. It's pretty flawless, Franco, Kunis and Co. blending seamlessly into the computer-generated images. I just wish there could have been more of a balance between the two, a happy middle ground.

Where I can't really find a weakness is in the casting. Fresh off a really odd Franco flick -- Spring Breakers -- comes this far better part, far more suited to his strengths. His Oz is a smooth-talker, a pretty decent magician, and generally a troublemaker who always manages to get out of said trouble. Franco gives him the right dosage of roguish charm mixed with a guy who wants to do the right thing. As for the witches, these are three very talented actresses working together (and they're easy on the eyes so that doesn't hurt). Williams does a fine job as the calm, almost angelic Glinda, Weisz similarly very good as the manipulative Evanora, and Kunis gets the biggest transformation from lovelorn Theodora to lovestruck and angry Wicked Witch. My only real complaint is that when Kunis transforms her voice talents remind me far too much of her voice work as Meg Griffin on Family Guy. Regardless, it's a very solid quartet working together.

The rest of the cast includes Zach Braff providing his voice talents as Finley, a small flying monkey (a good one, not a bad one) dressed like a doorman who pledges a life debt to Oz for saving him from certain death at the hands of a lion. He also plays Frank, Oz's loyal assistant in Kansas. Bill Cobbs plays the Master Tinker, a handyman of sorts who helps Oz to victory while Tony Cox is Knuck, the herald of the Emerald City, always ready to sound off a welcoming hurrah. Also solid is Joey King as China Doll, a broken doll Oz fixes who tags along on the adventures. Even look for Bruce Campbell as an Emerald City guard.

While I didn't love 'Oz,' I did like it a lot. The positives mostly outweigh the negatives in a movie that's a tad long at 130 minutes. My favorite moments were the funny ones -- surprisingly funny -- as Oz, Finley and China Doll navigate the twists and turns of the Yellow Brick Road. It's a visual treat with solid characters, surprising action and some good laughs. Not a bad combination at all.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013): ***/****

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