The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

April 6, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful: A Prequel to a Classic

Roger Thomas
CNHI

Saturday, April 6, 2013 — I am a fan of Sam Raimi, the director of “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Chances are you have seen some of his work, even if you did not realize it. He directed all three of the first “Spider-Man” series, the ones with Tobey MaGuire as Peter Parker/Spidey. In 2009, he directed one of my favorite horror movies of the last two decades: “Drag Me to Hell.” I know the title sounds strange, but it is one of the best PG-13 horror films ever. It was my choice in 2010 for my annual Scary Movie Night that happens the weekend before Halloween every year: all my guests were quite pleased with the selection.  

Raimi also directed some films that I did not like including “The Gift” (which you can always find in the bargain bin at Walmart), “For Love of the Game” and “The Quick and the Dead.” But I will forgive him these mistakes because of his greatest film, “A Simple Plan.” Simply put, “Plan” is one of the best films ever about the erosion of morality in the lives of a few people struggling with a vast temptation.

I wish I could write that Raimi’s new film, “Oz the Great and Powerful” was equal to “A Simple Plan.” I wish I could write that “Oz” is equal to the first two “Spideys;” unfortunately it is not. But those are very high standards.  

I would place it close to “Spidey 3,” and I liked that film more than many “Spidey” fans I know. So I liked “Oz” overall; there is a certain universal appeal to a story of selfish con-man finally learning to care for others.  

However, before I tell you the film’s strengths, allow me to tell you it’s limitations. First, much of the film was so dazzling visually, that certain moments were lacking because there was nothing at which to stare with wonder.  

From a plot perspective, much of the film was action driven and exciting, but when it lagged, it really slowed down, not quite boring, but certainly not equal to the adrenaline-filled moments when the film was at its best. And as happens with many other films, the climax was not as strong as earlier moments.

On the other hand, here is what I liked. For most of the film, the visual effects were stellar. The 3-D in this film was used as effective as in any film I have ever seen. (My constant readers already know, I am not the biggest fan of 3-D but I enjoyed it this time.) Almost every frame of the film was crowded with colorful, stunning sites that truly created another world and some remarkable characters. This is not Dorothy’s “Oz” from 1939, but oh it is an “Oz” worthy of the ticket price just for the production design.

I also liked the four leads.  James Franco, who seems always to be having fun with this material, is quite good here. (This work certainly is not equal to his efforts in “127 Hours,” but that film is a long way from “Oz.)” Michelle Williams is absolutely stunning in both her roles as Glinda and Annie; Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz make great villains.

The one thing I liked most about the film is the respect it has for the classic. I enjoyed the opening in black and white with the 4:3 aspect ratio on screen. Then, of course, as the young magician named “Oz,” travels to the land that bears his name, the screen widens and the colors become brilliant. There were other references to the classic: singing munchkins, cornfields and scarecrows, a brief appearance by a cowardly lion, just to name a few. I have only read “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (and that was many years ago), but I have known for a long time that Frank Baum wrote a series of books about this magical world. Much of the literary “Oz” is on screen I am sure, but I also think Raimi worked hard to reference the classic film with this prequel, and I appreciated that greatly.

We have had two good fairytale films in the last month. I liked “Jack the Giant Slayer” and I like “Oz the Great and Powerful” even a little bit more. Neither are great cinema, but both are worth a viewing. And perhaps for you as they did for me, a journey awaits back to the sweet days of childhood.

Roger Thomas writes film reviews for The Stanly News & Press and thesnaponline.com.