Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 13, 2013

‘Oz’ adequate, not great

Andy Stuckey, Ryan Maddux
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — This week we’ll be taking a look at the fantasy film Oz the Great and Powerful (PG).

A prequel to the timeless classic, The Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful tells the tale of a small-time magician (James Franco) who stumbles into the colorful Land of Oz and gets wrapped up in the heightened drama of three witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams). Sam Raimi directs.    

Ryan: My main expectation for this movie was this: If it didn’t tarnish the legacy of The Wizard of Oz (one of the most beloved films of all time) then I wouldn’t have an issue with it. At the end of the day, I don’t have a problem with the movie. It’s clearly not on the same level as The Wizard of Oz (and I would even say that it’s not that memorable of a film either) but ultimately it is a serviceable film that doesn’t detract from the original. And I think it does have entertainment value for the whole family, which isn’t the case with many of these types of big productions.

Andy: I approached this film with a similar attitude. There is no way that Oz the Great and Powerful could ever live up to the majesty of the original. My fear is that this a cash grab by Disney, attempting to create a new franchise that will reel in money for years to come. While that may still be the case, I do not feel like this film affects the “Oz Brand” as established by the original. Part of that is because, despite some conscious choices to connect the two, the new Oz feels like something completely different. And make no mistake about it; we are talking about an inferior kind of different. Thankfully, it is not offensively different.

Ryan: On one hand the film looks great, especially the from-a-distance shots. The filmmakers used a bright palette and the film has a colorful aura about it. But it also suffers from an over-dependence on CGI.  The movie is almost too clean and there’s just not a lot of cinematic depth in various scenes; it’s clear that it’s just actors (or stand-ins) standing in front of a green screen. That type of film-making might not bother most moviegoers but I found it distracting in this case.

Andy: One aesthetic aspect of the film that fell a little flat is an attempt by the filmmakers to create a grand, classic-movie feel. Many of the scenes feature understated performances and sweeping visuals that feel like a conscious effort to give the film a classic feel. For the most part, this results in performances that are too subtle (especially at the beginning), and a narrative that relies too much on visuals and swells in music. It is the same faux-classic grandstanding that got the Star Wars reboot in trouble 14 years ago. While the results here are more positive than The Phantom Menace, it is noteworthy that attempting to truncate a classic franchise poses problems that are not easily overcome.   

Ryan: Raimi assembled quite a talented cast, and that enhances the film in a positive manner. Obviously this isn’t their best work, but for the most part the cast delivers durable performances.

James Franco has that quirky charm that really works in a fantasy movie, and he does an admirable job defining this younger version of the wizard.

Williams and Weisz play the standard protagonist and antagonist parts functionally, and Kunis, certainly challenged by playing the more iconic part, conveys a real since of villainy that’s demanded by the role. Oz the Great and Powerful is certainly not anywhere near the level of the original Wizard of Oz, but it does serve as an adequately entertaining addition to the Oz mythos.

Final grade: B-.