director Sam Raimi
viewed: 03/16/2013 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
Sam Raimi’s faux-Technicolor fantasy, Oz the Great and Powerful, is quite the spectacle. Unfortunately spectacle only goes so far in a movie. Both a great homage to the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) and optimistic founding of another modern movie franchise, Raimi taps into old and new and lets the art designers go to town, not just the Emerald City, to give vivid, new digital life to the work of L. Frank Baum.
Baum’s work has weathered the years, probably in no short measure aided significantly by MGM’s cinematic masterpiece, but the depths of the many Oz books have never been fully plumbed by Hollywood. While Oz the Great and Powerful is poised as a prequel and doesn’t actually tap its roots into any of Baum’s novels (only his “universe”), the landscape of Hollywood deals and marketable names offers a long line of potential re-workings. I’m not overly familiar with Baum’s novels, but the ones that I’ve read are rich, strange, and fantastic.
Raimi’s film suffers two major problems. The one that most have noted is the casting. James Franco, for what he’s worth, does indeed seem utterly miscast as the prestidigitator-turned-fake Wizard, swept up from a black and white Kansas via cyclone to the lurid daydream of Oz. Mila Kunis, for all her charms, is also an actress so much of the present that she seems utterly awkward in a period/fantasy piece. And while I’ve always liked Rachel Weisz, the only one who felt to me like some sort of classic timeless character was Michelle Williams. I’ve read critiques of her performance too, but I thought she was adequately ethereal and good, the only person in the film that felt right.
But perhaps more than anything, the problem is the script. It’s not that the story idea is bad but the whole film lacks verve, magic, even comedy. Even in a weak film, the comedic bits are usually functional “relief” but the film’s humor was as flat as any part of the film. And the dialogue was pretty uninspired all around.
I watched the film with Clara and in 3-D, the latter of which I usually avoid at all costs. Very typical of 3-D, I would say, the added “depth” added nothing. Sure, it made a few of the visuals “pop” a bit more, but c’mon! For an extra $3 I would rather have had a better film at the core.
All this complaint, sure, but it’s not a disaster of a film. It’s extremely weak in parts, sure, but it’s entertaining enough. The designs are certainly the highlights and Michelle Williams, one of my favorite actresses, stands out. Clara and I enjoyed it. Though it is not a beneficent omen of the movie season to come.
As for Raimi, we’ll always have Evil Dead II (1986).