With the recent release of Oz the Great and Powerful on DVD and Blu-Ray, audiences can again return to the Land of Oz, complete with Emerald City and Yellowbrick Road, but will this film be the comeback to the franchise that we all know Disney is hoping it will be? Read on to find out if this movie finds it's courage or melts under the stress.
The first thing that I loved about this movie is the homage that it payed to it's predecessor. The film begins in black and white and as Oscar Diggs, we'll get to him in a sec, enters Oz the movie goes full colour and wide-screen. The original Wizard of Oz used the switch to show the staggering power of colour on film with Wizard of Oz being shot in Technicolor, which was huge at the time (1939). In this film it just pays tribute to that which came before, but it did bring a definite smile to my face. There are other little winks and nods along the way that people who watched the original film will appreciate and Sam Raimi even managed to squeak in a cameo by Bruce Campbell, just a little something he does. As for other nods, you can definitely tell that this is a Disney movie, castles have that certain flair, and after watching the special features on the Blu-ray you see just how much of an influence early Disney animation had on this film.
But now the part that you really came here for; to find out if this movie is watchable, lovable, amazing, or just downright bad. Well I'm here to say that it has it's ups and downs, but it is something that I would watch again. "Ups and downs?" you ask, I'm getting there. The acting is stellar with the entire cast investing heavily into their characters. Research was obviously done and you can tell that Raimi really let these people explore the skins that the actors had on. James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, but everyone calls him Oz. Oz is a magician with a traveling circus and he feels like his talents aren't appreciated by the people of the world, let alone Kansas where he is from. He is quickly sucked up by a tornado and sent to the Land of Oz and if you want my advice avoid Kansas and it's magical tornadoes of Oz. There he meets the first of three witches played by Mila Kunis of That 70's Show fame (along with a ton of other great screen performances). I'm not going to tell you who is who as the witches go, but if you've seen Wizard of Oz or read the Baum books, things should be pretty simple to figure out. Kunis put a ton of effort into this role and like Franco it shows. She brings a wide range of emotions to the screen and her performance really wowed me. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams play the other two witches in the film, both of their performances were good, but I feel like Williams's character could have been played differently and I'm not sure if that was her or the script. Joey King does the voice of China Girl, a small puppet sized character made completely from delicate Fine China, who becomes a companion to the wizard. You may recognize her voice as she has done voice work before as well as appeared on many different television shows. Her voice lends the perfect softness to China Girl who is of course super delicate, but also raring for adventure. My favourite character and thus the last I mention is Finley, voiced by Zach Braff. I think I laughed at every single joke that came out of the flying monkey's mouth and upon watching the special feature I found out why. Raimi was taking many suggestions along the way and Franco and Braff ended up coming up with most of the jokes heard by their characters. The only problem with Finley is that there wasn't enough of him.
Acting and character writing were a definite up to this movie, so how about them downs? Well for one a lot of this movie was shot on a blue stage, meaning that there weren't many sets, or so the movie appears. My biggest complaint after seeing it was that they used CGI way too much and it ruined the overall feeling of the movie, but watching the special features I learned that a large number of sets were actually physical sets that were then meshed together with digital. In other words it made everything look fake even after set designers spent tons of time making amazing sets. The fact that Oz looked fake took away quite a bit from the movie since the world of Oz itself can be a character as well as the actors, something that was proved by the first one. At no one times was I wowed by a set piece enough to think that Oz would be a fun place to visit or explore like the first movie did; all I could think about was the actors sitting around in a blue room trying to see digital characters fly around them. And it's not just the world that falls flat due to shoddy CGI, the few battle sequences that are in the movie also look really, really... really fake. Actors flying around on wires would have been preferable to what was in the movies.
The Blu-ray does have some nice bonus features on it, including a mini-documentary by James Franco about his time on the movies. He actually interviews the other actors and Sam Raimi which gives a different view of the way the movie was made. The other stuff is all making of stuff which is interesting to some, like me, and a blooper reel that needs to be much longer; actually most blooper reels need to be longer. The bonus features aren't worth going on of your way for, but they do add a little bit to ones understanding of the film.
I was hoping for more out of this film in terms of the spectacular world of Oz, knowing that with today's advancements it could have been unreal, but sadly that was not the case. The actors did great getting into their roles and breathing life into their characters, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the fake world around them. In the end I'd say rent this film, the story and acting are worth the trip to Oz, even if the sightseeing tour is something to be desired.