Who likes the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of Oz? That’s right, every single one of you. Some 74 years later, this film regularly features on many a personal and official list of favourite movies of all time. Admittedly, although I like this movie very much (it was a childhood favourite of mine), my top ten, possibly top twenty list is packed full of comic book movies and Star Wars. What can I say? I like spandex and lightsabres…
Despite this, the cultural impact of the movie is deeply ingrained in the public consciousness, just look at the recent death of ex-British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a song from the Oz movie, Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead, shot up the charts, in morbid celebration of her passing. For those not up to date, then point your eyes at your favourite search engine (yeah man, there’s more than one) and learn. She was a divisive political character to say the least.
But you didn’t come here for an education in British politics, no, no, you’re here for a review on Oz the Great and Powerful, that or the competitions we have on NLY which I never seem to win… Curious…
Oz (no not the prison series)
Oz the Great and Powerful directed by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man Trilogy) stars James Franco (son of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man and the dude in based on real life flick 127 Hours who hacks his own arm off to free himself from some rocks) as Oscar “Oz” Diggs aka the titular Oz.
Set some 20 years (Kansas in 1905) before the MGM movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Oz the Great and Powerful is essentially an origin story (very much in vogue these days). We get to see Oscar before he becomes the fabled Wizard of Oz and what we see isn’t all that impressive.
The movie begins in black and white and in an aspect ratio of 4:3, which is at once jarring and intriguing for those of us with widescreen TV sets. Yup, there are those out there still using square big back tellyboxes, black and white ones at that!
We are introduced to Oscar who is working as a magician for a small travelling circus. Not only is he the Paul Daniels of pre-war American Big Tops, he’s also something of a womaniser, flirting with none other than the Strong Man’s wife. Now, I don’t know about you, but the clue is in his title, it has Strong and Man, right next to each other. Of all the wives you could flirt with, Strong Man’s should probably be way down on your list.
Not wanting to be the Strong Man’s bendy bar, Oscar takes off and eventually escapes by way of hot air balloon. However, this particular mode of transport isn’t ideal when confronted with a tornado, which, coincidentally, happens to transport Oscar to the Land of Oz.
Return to Oz (but technically not as this is a prequel)
There’s a beautiful moment that apes the original movie in this prequel, whereby Oscar is spirited away (man, I love that film, Spirited Away) from good old black and white, 4:3 Kansas to full on HD, full colour, 2.35:1 Land of Oz. Just like in the original movie, this change induces a sense of “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. However, unlike the original movie, the effects are jarring and cartoony, think Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The film is very heavy on GCI which is more in the fantasy realm rather than photo-realistic, and it can, at times, distract, badly. Still, it is a fantasy film, but then so is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy… However, I am being churlish in comparing Oz with the most holiest of trilogies (not countng the original Star Wars Trilogy or Back to the Future, maybe Indiana Jones, if we ignore the one with the aliens, because, that movie didn’t happen!)
Upon crash landing in Oz, he is met by Theodora, a Good Witch played by, quite frankly, one of THE most beautiful women on the planet, Mila Kunis (the most beautiful being my wife, of course, hi honey).
Theodora, being a bit dumb, I mean naïve, believes that Oscar is a great wizard, not just any wizard though, but the one prophesied to defeat the evil witch Glinda (a thoroughly enchanting Michelle Williams). Oscar, meanwhile, is a bit of a chancer, so plays along, so he… Wait… What? An evil Glinda? Well, let me tell you about that, but watch out, spoilers!
Theodora takes Oscar to the Emerald City (yes, THE Emerald City) to meet with her sister, Evanora, (played by one of my favourite actresses, Rachel Weisz), by way of Flying Monkey, Finley (voiced by Scrubs’ Zach Braff). Evanora isn’t convinced that Oscar is the mythical saviour of Oz, so, she sends Oscar and Finley off to the Dark Forest to find the evil Glinda, to relinquish her of her wand, and thus defeating her. Witches are daft like that, having all their powers embedded in a twig. Why would Oscar go on such a trek? Why, he’s been promised riches upon riches and a throne, it’s all about the thrones these days.
On their journey, Oscar and Finley rescue a China Girl, no, not Zhang Ziyi, but a girl made of China, no, not the country, but the porcelain, ceramic thingy. This little China Girl has to be the cutest fantasy character you’ll ever come across, yes, I know I’ve lost man points with that comment, but, she’s just so adorable.
So, the three of them, a pretend wizard, a flying, talking monkey dressed as a bellhop, and a teeny tiny girl made of China (no, not the ex-WWE wrestler turned, erm, adult movie star) head off to do battle with the evil Glinda.