As a late baby-boomer, I am of an era that discovered "The Wizard of Oz" as a child in the 1960s through television, in an annual event in which I would lie on the floor in front of the TV, too close to the screen, in anticipation of joining Dorothy on her journey.
That was 30 years after the film debuted, and yet it was an event for which children could hardly wait until each year's single TV screening, in a time before DVDs and cable-TV showings that wore off some of the magic.
It was a magical time and an event whose themes of family and friendship - and heart, brains and courage - resonated with all ages.
‘OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL’
James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff
(in IMAX and in 3-D) Cinemark Tulsa,
AMC Southroads 20; (in 3-D) Cinemark Broken
Arrow, RiverWalk, Owasso, Starworld 20, Sand
Springs; (in 2-D) Eton Square, Admiral Twin Drive-in
2 hours, 10 minutes
PG (sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language)
(on a scale of zero to four stars)
"Oz the Great and Powerful" will not stand as a classic to be revered a century from now, but this origins story telling what happens before Dorothy ever arrives in Oz has its own brand of movie magic.
It is a mix of old Hollywood style meeting stunning art direction and computer-generated creatures and characters. Then there is the gorgeous costuming of three beautiful actresses who have never looked this lovely. Put it all together with yellow-brick roads, munchkins and flying baboons, and the new picture is a wonderland for the eyes.
I couldn't help but think of this film's similarities to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" from 2010, but this movie has a bigger heart and better brains to go with some dark magic.
Director Sam Raimi carefully evokes the spirit of the 1939 film, making his picture a companion piece to the original in both tone and style, including filming the first 20 minutes in black-and-white.
Based on the L. Frank Baum "Oz" books, we are introduced to Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) as a magician who longs to leave behind the second-rate Baum Bros. Circus he is traveling with in 1905 Kansas and be discovered for what he believes to be his obvious greatness as a master illusionist.
Oz is a con man, a womanizer who leaves behind broken hearts in every town he visits, and he treats his partner (Zach Braff) like a trained monkey. He's about to be run out of yet another town when a monster tornado rips through the carnival, sweeps up Oz and plops down the pleading man - "I can change, and I can do good" - in very strange land indeed.
It is a world filled with color and cascading waterfalls and sunflowers the size of trees. It is also a place where the first person Oz meets, Theodora (Mila Kunis), informs him that he is in Oz, a place in mourning over its dead king but with a prophecy telling that a wizard with the same name as the place is meant to save their magical kingdom.
The story is just that simple, with Theodora one of three daughters of the king (Michelle Williams as Glinda and Rachel Weisz as Evanora), and some confusion as to who among these three witches is good and who is bad. It is little surprise that the magician, told wrongly that Glinda is the wicked one, is more than happy to be bribed: Destroy Glinda, and accept the throne of Oz and the wealth that comes with it.
The script written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire puts the "wizard" on a path of repeating all of his earthly mistakes on this journey, including breaking hearts (turning one good girl very, very bad) and belittling new friends like a talking money in a bellhop outfit (Braff voices, hilariously) and a broken china doll who is made to walk again.
These are both allusions to earlier moments in the film, and they are created with great emotional spirit, as well as craft. If you don't come close to tearing up with this little doll (on this journey that resembles Dorothy's with the cowardly lion, tin man and scarecrow), you might want to check your own ticker.
There will be a high nostalgia factor for those who love the original, but "Oz the Great and Powerful" can stand on its own and should because this rollicking adventure is wondrously entertaining.
To see Kunis draped in costumes of red-velvet jackets and hats, and Williams never looking more luminous in good-witch white and angelic at the same time, their appearances evoke classic looks from "Golden Age" actresses in perfectly-lit Life magazine photos.
The 3-D is implemented to heighten a thrill-ride of effects, as the film amps up the fireworks and is virtually song-free compared to the original.
But Raimi is just as creative in framing that part of the film against the more humanistic story of a very mortal man, an egotistical and deceitful man who seeks fame and fortune, but who must learn that greatness will never be allowed to a man who does not first possess goodness in his heart.
Speaking of greatness, Franco is unfortunately the weakness of the film. He is a gifted comedic actor, but he does not possess the suave, leading-man presence that this character needs.
When I'm sitting in a theater thinking, "Oh man, what could Ryan Gosling have done with this role?" the lead actor is not getting the job done. He tries hard, but Franco never generates magic.
As to family fare, the film is PG, and there are perceptible differences here from the original especially in subtle sexuality: Franco's character is a womanizer, and there is innuendo, and in one of the more unusual developments, there is green cleavage as opposed to Margaret Hamilton's wrapped-up wicked witch.
As for the intensity, there are moments that will spook the youngest viewers, but thanks to today's pervasive effects-driven creations, none will haunt as did the flying monkeys that lived on in decades of children's nightmares.
Just like there's no place like home, there is almost no movie quite like "The Wizard of Oz" for many people. But "Oz the Great and Powerful" possesses moments of greatness, much goodness and is at times quite powerful.
Original Print Headline: Magic of its own
Michael Smith 918-581-8479