Saturday, 13 July 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - ★★★★

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire, L. Frank Baum
Stars: James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michell Williams, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox

I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Oz the Great and Powerful. While others didn't get the whole 'Oz' vibe, I felt like I'd never left. When I first heard that they were doing a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, the first thing I said was "that's going to suck." Sam Raimi had huge shoes to fill because the 1939 classic is literally cinema perfection (it is to me anyway). Not only did it exceed my expectations, it went above and beyond! I loved the new characters they introduced, I really liked the story they came up with, but perhaps most importantly, it made me feel as giddy as a child again. It's not perfect, but I'd call it a great movie.

The whole dynamic of the first movie is almost completely changed in this prequel. Instead of musical numbers and children's humour, it's a bit darker and more grown up. This is most likely because of the fact that our main character, Oz (James Franco) is an adult, not a young woman. The film starts off the same way as its sequel, shot in beautiful black and white. Oz is a magician that makes very little money from performing with a travelling circus. He gets chased by a murderous circus performer, eventually ending up in a hot-air balloon. A tornado strikes down and sucks Oz in... then guess what happens. HE WAKES UP IN THE WONDERFUL LAND 'OZ'!

The screen gets filled with some of the most vibrant, beautiful images I've ever seen. After a whirlwind adventure around Oz in the hot air balloon, he ends up meeting Theodora 'the Good Witch' (Mila Kunis). It turns out that the former king and wizard of Oz (her father) prophesised that a wizard would arrive to defeat the wicked witch. She takes him to the Emerald city where he meets Theodora's older sister, a witch named Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who is the caretaker of the king. In order to become king and get all the riches of the kingdom, he sets out to destroy the wicked witch. He enlists the help of a flying monkey named Finlay (Zach Braff), and a little girl made of China named China Girl (Joey King). There are a few cool and tragic twists and turns in this adventure, which had me riveted from start to finish.

This may sound like a sin of the cinema, but I think my all time favorite character is Finlay. That monkey made me roar with laughter! The original had very old-fashioned humour, whereas Finlay was more modern and relatable. I couldn't believe that they managed to create a character that was funnier than that of The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. He wasn't the only one I loved though, China Girl was just precious. When Oz first meets her he fixes her legs, which was a scene I found to be so touching. Together, these three had a beautiful and hilarious chemistry, playing off each other's different personalities perfectly.

James Franco even managed to impress me. I never thought in a million years that he could pull it off... but he did. His comic timing was perfect, and his scenes with the animated characters were flawless. Even though I think they could have cast a more appropriate person for the role, he didn't do a bad job at all. Michelle Williams played Glinda, and my goodness was she perfect for the role! She did a wonderful job at capturing the kindness, the essence if you will, of the nicest witch of all time.

As for live-acting, the stand-out was by far Rachel Weisz. What a knock-out! What a stunning actress! She blew me away to smithereens with her strength, her regality, and of course her infectious charm. Much of my interest in the story was because of her. At times I was hanging out for her to come back on screen. To be perfectly honest, she was my main motivation to watch this movie. Boy am I glad I did!

Rachel Weisz smashes the role as Evanora, who is not all that she seems...
You know who was completely miscast in this movie? Mila Kunis. Now, she didn't do a terrible performance at the start (even though her voice was too monotone for my liking). When she transformed, she just didn't suit the role. Every time she spoke, I kept thinking "Shut up, Meg." That's a Family Guy reference (sorry if you didn't get it). Her voice was completely wrong, and I wasn't a fan of the way she appeared either. Even the laugh was horrible! It's times like this you truly come to appreciate Margaret Hamilton's performance in the very same role.

As for the special effects, I think they did as good a job as humanly possible! I really appreciate the way they recreated the background images from The Wizard of Oz. When they were in Munchkin Land (or some strange town anyway) I saw the same mountain that Glinda floated down from in 1939. It was the little things, the tributes, that made it feel like Oz again. Yet they added a huge array of awesome new things, each more beautiful than the last! I'd give them a score of 9/10 for the effects. My one fault is the scenes where Theodora and Oz are walking together. You can plainly tell that they're on a moving conveyer belt in front of a green screen. This was a common film-technique used in the 30s, but I never liked it anyway. It's a small nitpick that took away no enjoyment though!

I believe that children would enjoy The Wizard of Oz more than Oz the Great and Powerful. I still enjoy the original better... but my god did this movie cut it close! If it weren't for the major drawback of Mila Kunis, this would make it onto my greatest of 2013 list. What I like about this film better than the original is the albeit cliche lesson that Oz learns through the process. I found Oz the Great and Powerful to be highly entertaining, yet extremely touching. By the end, I got pretty emotional. While most people do not share my enthusiasm for the film, I'm ever so glad that they decided to expand this legendary story.

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