[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]
[Beware of minor spoilers here]
Nostalgia plays a massive part in our lives: music we listen to, films we watch, food we eat, etc., it is a hard thing, nay almost impossible, to neglect when trying to objectively judge the worth of something.
Imagine then, watching a film for the first time and wondering if you enjoyed it as much as you thought you did or whether a previous film that is linked to it has affected that opinion.
It is here I find myself when reviewing Oz, the Great and Powerful, because watching a film that pays obvious homage to its 1939 predecessor, is a recipe for confusion. Taking a step back from the film a few days later I can say up front that I enjoyed much within the film and took quite a lot from it, whilst at the same time admitting frustration and annoyance.
The opening credits of the film are fantastic and follow that with a sepia opening, which switches both colour and screen size as it moves into Oz and this as good a homage to The Wizard of Oz, as you are going to get. There are similarities in look and feel and enough of a mention of the characters from the earlier film without it feeling that they are being crowbarred in to keep the hardcore fan happy.
I must state here that I watched the film with my love of The Wizard of Oz, as a constant gauge. I watched the film first when I was very young, as part of one of my many wonderful childhood Christmas memories and didn’t read the novel until much later. There are things I remembered about both the book and the film that made certain decisions within this one strange. I mean, it seemed as though Sam Raimi was making a film that was to be the prelude to The Wizard of Oz but linked things to the book or the film.
Two examples of this are: Glinda, the good witch and the Emerald City. Glinda is the Good Witch of the North in the first film but is the Good Witch of the South in both the newer film and the book. The Emerald City is not actually emerald in the book but appears that way as everyone wears emerald tinted glasses. In both films the city is actually emerald, making the continuity film-based there. This is nit-picking at its finest and I’m not saying decisions like this ruined the film but they niggled somewhat.
I loved the look and feel of Oz in the film (except maybe the wizard’s arrival to the land) and I was pleased that they had three of the witches instead of just the two in the first film (well the third features there two – or her legs at least).
Glinda was excellent, she felt very much like a younger version of the original good witch and it seemed like Michelle Williams had studied the earlier film to get the character just right. Rachel Weisz was solid too, maybe as she didn’t have to tailor her role to another in the previous film. I’ve been a fan of Weisz for many a year and think she would have excelled whatever the challenge.
Not so Mila Kulis, as I’ve not seen her perform in any film so far where she has seemed a credible character and her portrayal of one of the stars of the original film, the Wicked Witch of the West, was woeful and over acted to excess. If this was a homage I’m just pleased that Margaret Hamilton hasn’t witnessed the travesty.
I still haven’t made my mind up about James Franco in general but I don’t think he was the right casting here. He was great as the arrogant, self-obsessed Oz in the early part of the film but his transformation was hard to believe, especially as he maintained his smug grin throughout.
Other things grated, like the flying baboons, as they were bloody vicious and not at all in keeping with the originals which were more mischievous and cunning than just outright bloodthirsty (and were not actually baboons). I hated all the one-liners, usually uttered by Franco and it gave the film more of a ‘suit the viewers of today’, rather than a ‘suit the original fans’ feel.
However, some of the ideas were wonderful: characters that appear in both Kansas and Oz, especially the crippled girl who in the opening scenes asks Oz to make her walk again, appears in Oz as a china doll which has had its legs broken off. Oz glues them back together and fulfills his prophecy as the wizard and achieves what he couldn’t in Kansas. That was probably my scene of the film.
The action is not overwhelming, letting the story of an arrogant man turned saviour develop and giving us a credible back story as to how Oz ended up in, well, Oz, and why he is the ethereal form which appears to Dorothy and her gang.
And it brings back memories, it kindles the light we felt from the original film, makes me want to watch that one again, listen to Somewhere over the Rainbow, makes me remember all the Christmases again.
Try as I might, objectivity eludes me and I suppose we will all have to settle for that.