Before you go see OZ, THE GREAT & POWERFUL – a film, you really must see, there are a few things that can prepare you for seeing the movie.
Before Oz first traveled to the land of his namesake, the place somewhere over a rainbow has been in chaos. This is a time before the Scarecrow & Tinman… long long long before Dorothy Gale ever arrived.
This is a time when the Wicked Witch Sisters were not yet completely wicked. What you will find in Sam Raimi’s whimsical flicker that returns us to the land of Oz, is simply really and truly in need of a man of vision. A man that can woo & scare witches. A man of some inventiveness, but mostly a man that needs to find his stage.
And that’s James Franco’s Oz. He’s a young carnival magician and con artist. He tricks women into falling in love with him, all for the purpose of his act. He isn’t a good man as he tells the real world Michelle Williams… but that’s because inside he knows he’d sacrifice anyone and anything to become great. But, the mere fact that he lets her go on with her life. It is proof of his goodness, and his first great act as Oz. For this woman is the mother of Dorothy Gale.
Now think about that for a second. We’ve never before seen Dorothy’s mother, nor her father. Something terrible took them away from Dorothy, as Dorothy is a bit like Peter Parker, being brought up by Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. But, by making Michelle Williams play Dorothy’s mother, the future Annie Gale, as well as Glinda the Good Witch… well, it makes revisiting WIZARD OF OZ, all the more fun – just thinking that Billie Burke’s Glinda is the Oz-ian dream image of Dorothy’s mother that perhaps she never got to meet.
Now, don’t be mistaken – it is never spelled out quite like that in Raimi’s film, it’s just a notion tossed into the origin of our scoundrel of an Oz. But it was probably that single act that allowed his heart to be proven good – something that we see later in Raimi’s film.
The folks complaining about the sexy young witches, seem to also completely lose site of the fact that it will be some time till Dorothy arrives. In fact, in this film Evanora doesn’t even have the Ruby Slippers yet. That occurs somewhere between the end of the story and the beginning of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Of all the witches, my favorite is Mila Kunis’ Theodora. That her sister took her heart away, so she would never feel the pain of it breaking again… Is killer – and the idea that if you make a witch cry, her tears will carve scars into her cheeks… is crazy cool.
People trying to compare the worth of Oz’s companions versus the iconography of the Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow are missing the point entirely. These are the characters that Oz needs to make him the man he needs to become.
When little Joey King implores the great and powerful Oz to make her walk at his Carnival gig in the greytones of the opening… his utter helplessness to give this girl her wish, becomes the instant failure that reduces himself in his own eyes. Puts the word “CAN’T” into his mind, yet over the rainbow, Joey King voices a China Girl from a Chinatown that had been devastated by a flying baboon army – a scene, that I would have loved to have seen, btw. Everyone she’d ever known was shattered. She lost her own porcelain legs were cleanly broken too. When Oz applies his “Magic in a Bottle” – and the China Girl precariously begins to walk – it’s a beautiful moment. His flying Monkey side man, even looks at him with a bit of awe – which is a big deal, given he’s in on the secret that his master is a phony.
Then, his Monkey Assistant proves himself to be a true and good friend. Something that Oz isn’t accustomed to.
As the film begins to build toward a final confrontation, I found myself giddy to behold the greatest trick Oz every perpetrated in his career of fraud… to fool the wicked witches into believing that he truly was OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.
For some – you might be a tad underwhelmed, but realize that cinema itself was a magic that these folks had never experienced. And if you’ve every seen one of the Disney spectacular night light shows – you can witness the power of this faux magic upon our own world – and in a land that had never seen fireworks or moving pictures – and with Franco’s own particular brand of bravado and showmanship… it works. For now.
I had a blast with the film, but then I grew up reading Baum’s original Oz stories from a very early age. My parents bought me the entire run of original stories – and there’s so much of the Land of Oz that so many that have only ever relied upon cinema, well… you’ve been missing out.
Franco does a decent job with the title role, but the entire time – I found myself wanting the role to be played by Toby Jones, especially after watching his technical wizardry in CAPTAIN AMERICA. But they were shooting for an earlier time in this one day Professor Marvel’s career.
The 3D is spectacular. Though the OZ brand 3D glasses have a cool look, the Z in the bottom part of one of the lenses, does actually cause a slight fuzzy spot in the bottom left corner, unless you sit far enough away. If you’re close, those glasses can bug you. But then I bring my own, as I’ve never been satisfied with the disposable 3D glasses.
Seeing this out with a family would be quite something. I saw it this afternoon with a press group in town for SXSW and it seemed to be met with some enthusiasm.
You should know that if you watch the gates of the Emerald City upon Oz’s return visit, you’ll perhaps spy Bruce Campbell under a good deal a makeup – and if you love spying Ted Raimi – he’s the guy bitching about wires in Franco’s opening act.
If you’ve loved our many journeys to Oz on film, you may find yourself whisked away by this one too. I’d rank this outing behind the original classic with Judy, and I still prefer the criminally underrated RETURN TO OZ by Walter Murch. And I’d love to arrange a triple feature that begins with OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, then plays WIZARD OF OZ and end up with RETURN TO OZ. I love this trilogy, but THE WIZARD OF OZ will always be the center of my love for all things Baum.
Raimi made a very magical film – like the citizens of Oz… you need to believe and you’ll see magic – no matter how cynical your knowledge of modern movie magic has you. If not, perhaps you’re not destined of Oz. Me, I’ve always dreamt of going somewhere over a rainbow.
Now I’m off to see EVIL DEAD by Fede Alvarez. Raimi has me in a grip today! Death by dawn?
And I'll leave you with a question.
Does every rainbow you see, make you dream of a yellow brick road? It is time to dream again.