Oz The Great and Powerful

ozReview by Lucia Santiago Dantes

When MGM’s The Wizard of Oz opened back in 1939 it wasn’t a big blockbuster although it was critically well received, in fact The Wizard of Oz had a moderated success at the box office barely recovering the production budget of 2 million dollars (it made 3 millions at the box office). The film gained public attention after it was nominated for the Oscars but it wasn’t until it was broadcasted that gained a place as an all time favorite among pop culture. Flash forward 70 years (gosh sounds like space traveling already!) and it is now up to Walt Disney Pictures to produce the prequel to the story once L. Frank Baum wrote, “Oz the Great and Powerful”.  Since Walt Disney didn’t have any right to use the original film and imagery we don’t get to see any of the characters or most remembered props like the red slippers or the Lion, the tin man and scarecrow or even the witches. I would say since this is a prequel we don’t need to see those actual characters from the 1939 film, as that story is yet to come.

The story explores the origins of Oz the wizard who Dorothy looks for in the original story to help her go back to Kansas. As we all remember in the movie thanks to Toto’s shenanigans Dorothy discovers that Oz was a circus magician who also accidentally fell into the same world the way Dorothy did. Oz the great and Powerful is the story of this con man and how he becomes the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The film starts in black and white (in a homage to The Wizard of Oz it goes with the same BW turn to Color style) in Kansas 1905 where Oscar Diggs, better known as Oz (James Franco) is this con/womanizer magician whose not only resourceful with the illusions but also getting in troubles with the ladies. As a storm approaches, he has to run away from his persecutors while a tornado is approaching. He ends up in what it looks other world where everything is as bright and fantastic, at this point the film turns into color. Thanks to 3D and CGI the film looks spectacular and fascinating. The first person to encounter is Theodora (Mila Kunis) She recognize him as the great Wizard that’s been prophesied to arrive to Oz to defeat the Wicked Witch who killed her father, the King of Oz and take his place as ruler of the land. Theodora immediately takes him to Emerald city to introduce him to her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who is a conniving witch, contrary of Theodora who I just perceive her as a temperamental witch. Being as passionate as she is, Theodora quickly falls in love with Oz. Evanora uses this and Oz attributes as a con man to work on her favor and takes Oz to show all the treasures awaiting for him if he is “the one” there’s a catch though, he has to kill the Wicked Witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) before enjoying the richness and power. Oz reluctantly accepts although he doesn’t know how he’ll manage to kill a witch if he is not a real wizard, just a circus illusionist. He take his servant Finley (Zach Braff) (a winged monkey he save from a lion on his way to Emerald City) and goes to find Glinda, but when he find her he is stunned by her resemblance with Annie (again Michelle Williams) the woman he probably was in love back in Kansas. Glinda introduces herself as Glinda the Good Witch and Evanora is actually the Evil Witch and tells the story how on how she poisoned her father. And so, the real quest begins for Oscar, as he finds out he has to become great and powerful to defeat the evil witches.

What I liked about the story is how the characters struggle with their own personal motivations and personas in a similar and lesser way The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the book) explores the “self denying” theme with the 3 basic characters: the thin woodman, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion. In Oz the Great and Powerful we see how a con man struggles to overcome all this limitations and use his tricks as a con man to the common good.

Theodora was a very interesting character. Few characters makes me think as much as Theodora’s faith and how she was manipulated by her own sister probably the same way Evanora poisoned their father. We see Theodora as a witch who is passionate but at the same time temperamental but not as evil as Evanora or at least that’s what we get to see. Evanora goes to the point she gives her own sister an enchanted apple and literally creates a monster out of her just to use it on her own personal benefit… just to think about it makes me shiver again as it made me shudder in my own seat while watching Theodora’s transformation and faith.

Also Oscar’s Character Arch is interesting. He is looking for greatness, in a way that’s why he can’t commit with Annie or any other woman in his world. He simply expects more from life, and he thinks playing the con man will serve him well and help him get whatever he wants. That reminds me a lot of characters I’ve known in real life (men and women). Glinda in the other world realizes this and tries to work with him after realizing that he is not a wizard, and he is not powerful but Glinda realizes 2 things: first Oscar is all that she has. Second she believes like the rest of Oz that Oscar is the Wizard of the prophecy and capable of delivering disregarding his lack of magic. Glinda helps him to realize that he is in fact capable of greatness as he once dreamed. Remember Oscar probably chose a life as a magician because he wanted attention, success and he found it in tinsel and illusions. But Oscar’s breaking points were 2 incidents: 1. knowing Annie found someone who can give her a life he can’t, and that’s why he acts so indifferent (he knows he has to let her go also he knows he doesn’t want a life of marriage into the circumstances he is now); and the second moment of true comes with the Girl in a Wheelchair and her family begging Oscar to make her walk again. Those are the 2 major breaking points for Oscar or should I call them “the moments of true”?

What I loved most about the film is how well it serves all these Computer Generated effects to create a fantasy world. You see the 1939’s wizard of Oz and all those singing and dancing in beautiful theatrical costumes that despite the great story is not much compared to what technology adds to the table right now. This version is also deals with another fact: all that innocence is gone, and it is the result of living in other times. The book was written in 1900 and the film opened in 1939. That vision has to change and adapt to our times. That’s why we get another story. Of course it will be different, and yes a lesser story as it has the wash up of being a story written based on a story already created but the movie works well in its own terms. I would say Oz the Great and Powerful is a lesser but still good story to watch.

The visuals had some references to Alice in Wonderland, as the book also has some influence of Lewis Caroll’s world. Oz was directed by Sam Raimi better known for the spiderman’s trilogy starring Tobey Maguire among many other horror movies and his career as a producer of horror and fantasy movies and TV shows.


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