Oz: The Great and Powerful is brimming with magic and boasts splendid entertainment. It is a visual marvel in the vein of the revisionist film version of Alice in Wonderland (which I hopelessly adored). The 3D gimmicks that threaten to touch our corneas are ever-present but are matched in equal measure with inventiveness that excavates the depths of the screen. Most notably, I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of wit in this film and the heart that is revealed near the end, which are great magic tricks as any. If you are a sucker for fantasy films like me, this is nothing short of a spectacular adventure.
Suspension of disbelief. Forget the cinematic terminology for a moment and let's just talk about belief. We all have a belief system. What we see with our eyes open is what we choose to believe, the rest is all hokum (I wonder why). Naturally, the movie screen and its many pleasures can be experienced only with our eyes open. Strangely enough none of what is on screen is real. It is faked. This doesn't bother us much as most films imitate life and skew the illusion. When it comes to fantasy films (more so than any other genre) there is indeed a clash in our belief system. The screen is an optical illusion and to top this, what is projected on it is surreal. No way would we believe that, would we?
The work of a filmmaker becomes increasingly difficult since he has to make a good film and work tenfold with your belief system. The children are easy, it is the adults who have seen too much life and reality that decide to reject everything they don't believe (in). I believe, to successfully enjoy a fantasy film you do not need suspension of disbelief, all you need is belief. This is something Oscar believes in too.
James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a magician from Kansas who wants to do great things, fondly called Oz. After his Oscar hosting debacle, this is strange redemption for the actor. He has the charm and the humor but it works better when emotion isn't compromised. Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams are the witches in the land of Oz. I'll leave you to sift the good from the bad.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is undeniably one of the most iconic American films. Judy Garland is Dorothy and Over the Rainbow is one of my favorite songs of all time. The only thing that annoys the hell out of me whenever I watch the film are the munchkins. I burst into a ludicrous bout of laughter when the film acknowledges my irritation. When a character mentions he can make a scarecrow, Oz replies â€œThat'll come in handyâ€. The characters of the Scarecrow, Tin-Man, the Lion and the Wicked Witch were all reflections of the people Dorothy knew in her life in Kansas. This film has a few characters (Michelle Williams, Zach Braff and the girl who can't walk), which find a place in the world of Oz. The best homage comes in the form of the switch from black and white to color just like in the original. The aspect ratio of the screen (from 1.37:1 square) also shifts (to 2.35:1 widescreen) but do notice the fire (and other things) leaping out to the black borders aided by the playful 3D. The hot air balloon is given more footage. It is these little visual nods and verbal nudges to the original film, while it keeps the originality in tact, which makes this film special. Always aware of it, never competing with it, certainly not ridiculing it and mostly embracing it.
Peter Jackson, Tim Burton and Sam Raimi all began their careers in the 80s and have been devout fantasy aficionados constantly unearthing humor in the darkness. It only make sense that they are behind some of the biggest Hollywood films of the new century. Not just in terms of the budgets or scale but also box office. I have enjoyed Raimi's first two Spider-Man films but what I identify him as, is the man who made horror films funny, especially the Evil Dead sequels. I'm almost certain Oz is meant to be Raimi's alter-ego. The magician as the filmmaker. The Thomas Edison references, mentioning the often-broken cinematic rule â€œNever work with kids or animalsâ€ and the eventual plot point of the third act which has much to do with the magic and illusion of cinema.
The single best scene in the film is the one where Oz discovers China Girl, a wee little thing made of porcelain. A situation set up in the reality section of the film, is paid off in full-blown fantasy. The alarming thing to note is the sensitivity of the scene coupled with the seamless use of CGI. This is rarely seen in mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is not what you might expect it to be, it isn't great or powerful. I don't think it was ever meant to be. What it is destined to be is Oz: The Good and Wonderful. For a film like this you need to be a believer, others might choose to be the sourpuss. Although I can't imagine why you wouldn't put a smile on your face.view less