“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Oz the Great and Powerful

tn_ozOZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL could also be called WALT DISNEY’S SAM RAIMI 3D. That’s what I was hoping to see, and that’s what I got. If it had been a WIZARD OF OZ prequel movie made by somebody not as exciting as Raimi I don’t know that I would’ve even bothered, and it’s not my first choice of what he should be doing now that he’s stopped being a captive of SPIDER-MAN. But it turns out to be a better-than-expected use of Raimi’s time and mine.

Before we get into that I’m gonna say what we’re all thinking: let’s call it quits on these revisionist fantasy and fairy tale type movies now. “What if Alice in Alice in Wonderland was really the chosen one and she puts on armor and leads an army against the jabberwocky” made literally a billion dollars, but it was a moronic idea that was not rescued by Tim Burton’s imaginative visuals. I’ll give the Hansel and Gretel one and the Jack and the Beanstalk one a shot on video, but after that maybe it’s enough now, eh fellas? But they’re into this idea now of the recognizable name that’s not copyrighted.

Do you guys know about that thing The Black List, where every years hundreds of Hollywood people are invited to vote on their favorite unproduced screenplays of the year? I think at first it was to bring attention to great scripts that were having trouble getting made, now days it seems like alot of them are already filming when they’re on the list (for example DJANGO UNCHAINED was on last year’s). But they list all these screenplays and they have a little blurb with the premise and you’re supposed to think “oh, that’s interesting, I wonder how that works as a movie?” But as they’re actually made into movies you start seeing that sometimes the answer is, “Oh, they don’t really.”

The 2009 list included a murderer’s row of scripts that became poorly reviewed comedies: NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH (aka THE WATCH), THE SITTER, the ARTHUR remake, 30 MINUTES OR LESS, DUE DATE. Other trends in the last few years have been scripts about a small event in the life of a real life figure, using their last name as the title (MURDOCH, POWELL, SEUSS, RODHAM, MCCARTHY), scripts about the making of a movie (ALFRED HITCHOCK AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO [retitled HITCHCOCK out of respect for the aforementioned trend], CHEWIE, SAVING MR. BANKS [the Mary Poppins one with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney], IF THEY MOVE… KILL ‘EM! [about Peckinpah], HEY, STELLA! [Marlon Brando getting the role in A Streetcar Named Desire]) and now it’s twists on fairy tales and old timey literature. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was on the list, believe it or not. There’s one called HYDE on the list. There’s a fuckin Pinocchio prequel called THE THREE MISFORTUNES OF GEPETTO on the list. (That’s always been the problem with PINOCCHIO – too much puppet, not enough old man who made the puppet!) There’s this one:

THE EVER AFTER MURDERS by Ian Fried

“In a dark metropolis populated with characters from classical folklore, detectives Tom Thumb and Rachel Riding investigate a murder that brings them into contact with the city’s most dangerous inhabitants.”

That sounds like a joke I would make, but it’s real. And yes, the list had OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL:

“Based on the books of L. Frank Baum. The story of how a con artist from Kansas became the Wizard behind the curtain.”

mp_ozLike so many prequels, this doesn’t sound that appealing to me. Why do we need to see how he got there? If you gotta do an Oz movie, couldn’t you just do a story that takes place in Oz, and not have to set up who the damn wizard is? Well, yes. And this is not a necessary movie. But it’s an enjoyable one that does have some fun with a protagonist who’s not pure of heart and is not destined for greatness, exactly. The bigger thing he’s working toward is to be a total phony who ends up cracking under the pressure of a lost farm girl.

Since Disney wanted to get into the Oz business again they could’ve tied this in to their creepy ’80s cult classic RETURN TO OZ. Instead they made a LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN style officially-unrelated-but-suspiciously-similar prequel to the more famous 1939 MGM musical. Raimi pays tribute to THE WIZARD OF OZ with an extended black-and-white, cropped-frame opening in Kansas (not sepia tone, so don’t worry lawyers, it’s totally different) and with a scene where the Munchkins burst into a musical number (but the Wizard asks them to please stop). It sets up the existence of the Wizard and three of the witches, who we can imagine could age into the ones from the old movie, but then there’s a cameo by a realistic CGI lion instead of a guy in a costume. Hmmm.

Academy Award nominee/YOUR HIGHNESS star James Franco plays Oz, a magician and con man in a traveling circus who tries to steal the strongman (Tim Holmes)’s woman and gets chased out of camp in a hot air balloon he half owns when a tornado brings him to the magic land of Oz. Which is in color and Cinemascope. It looks gorgeous but as we drifted through the flowers that chime like bells and the carnivorous sea monkey fairies I realized that I don’t really know what makes Oz different from Wonderland. Both have whimsical shit and political turmoil. Both, in some versions, are only a dream. In this version I think it’s a real place, although some of the people he knows in Kansas play different characters in Oz (and you were there, and you were there…)

Oz has a weakness for the honeypot, and sure enough he meets Mila Kunis when he’s fresh off the balloon, so it’s gonna be trouble. She thinks he’s the wizard who a king said would come save everybody, so he pulls a Nicolas-Cage-in-RED-ROCK-WEST and says yeah, uh, that’s me. This leads to a number of close scrapes as he uses pathetic lies and basic magic tricks to fend off monsters and magic spells. He meets that good witch Glenda (Michelle Williams, playing the old timey wholesomeness straight), flies around in a bubble, gets chased by flying baboons. Like Dorothy he travels the yellow brick road and adds new members to his party, in this case a nice flying monkey dressed like a bellhop (voiced by Zach Braff) and a living china doll (Joey King – young Tali Al Ghul from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES!). Other Ozians include Rachel Weisz (another witch, hard to say if she’s gonna be bad), Tony Cox (BAD SANTA) as a guy who always wants to perform some trumpet fanfare but nobody will let him, and Bill Cobbs as the Master Tinker (the Q or Lucius Fox of Oz).

One thing that surprised me, this might be the first Oz movie besides THE WIZ that has alot of black people in it. That’s pretty cool. Not sure if I saw any Asians there, though.

There are a bunch of funny lines in the movie. I think Finley the Zach Braff monkey gets the best one. He’s a funny character, and kinda sweet too, although I think the animators overdid the sad eyes he seems to have in every serious scene he’s involved in. Kinda made me want to feed him to a bunch of lions, tigers and/or bears. The china doll (who I don’t think has a name) gets some really funny parts too. She’s this sad, tragic character who he helps and then you start to find out she’s kind of a nut. And she carries a doll-sized butcher knife for protection.

I believe they tried to get Johnny Depp to play the wizard at first, and then Robert Downey Jr. was attached for a while, and James Franco was a weird choice to fill in, but I think he makes it more interesting, funny in a way we haven’t seen in this type of movie before. Some people see Franco and his little art projects as a huckster anyway, so why not have him as a sideshow magician trying to survive on cheap tricks in a real magical world?

I assumed they’d just pretend like this wizard guy was a total sweetheart, despite his behavior in the later story where he’s the man behind the curtain. But what makes the movie fun is that the guy is kind of an asshole and a loser. He leaves a trail of broken hearts and disappointed friends, is chased away by angry audiences and angrier boyfriends of his girlfriends. When a little girl in a wheelchair believes he’s magic and wants him to heal her he waves her off with, “Uh, not now little girl.” In Oz he lies to almost everyone and never bothers to learn anybody’s names (repeatedly calling Glenda the Good Witch “Wanda”). Of course he’s sympathetic and does do some good things and learn some lessons, but even late in the movie he checks to make sure he still gets to keep the room full of golden treasure if he saves the Emerald City.

Believe it or not he’s kind of like Ash, with all kinds of ARMY OF DARKNESS parallels. He falls from the sky, they think he’s the chosen one, he’s in way over his head but is willing to lie to take in unearned power and glory. By the way, I guess Glenda is actually the Machiavellian Witch. She’s the one who pushes this whole idea that he can lie as long as everybody believes in him. And you know the Wicked Witch of the West? Turns out she was pushed over the edge into wickedness by Oz leading her on. Great job, Mr. Wonderful Wizard. You see what thinkin with your dick does?

Raimi’s been the SPIDER-MAN guy for years now, but everything else he’s done is pretty low budget. When he did DARKMAN that was like his chance to play with the big boys, and it only cost about $16 million. I still see him as that guy, so when he signs on to a big expensive special effects family movie I expect his style and personality to be smothered by all the money and studio politics. But OZ seems more like a Raimi movie than the SPIDER-MANs do. The opening tracking shot of circus folk, the “preparing for the big battle” montage that’s straight out of DARKMAN, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD or ARMY OF DARKNESS (but upgraded to 3D), the goofball sense of humor. And yes, Bruce Campbell has a cameo. I don’t know how he gets his name in the credits for that walk-on as “Winkie Gate Keeper,” but that probly means they paid him well. Good job.

Of course one difference from Raimi Classic is that it’s a very digital movie. Apparently they built real sets and everything, but the most eye-catching stuff is obviously animation. There’s a really cool physical comedy bit that looks almost real but I think is animation. I noticed Kurtzman and Nicotero (or was it Nicotero and Bergman? Somebody from KNB) got a big credit, but I’m not sure which parts of the movie they would’ve done. Some of the other Raimi cohorts are there too: editor Bob Murawski (ARMY OF DARKNESS), cinematographer Peter Deming (EVIL DEAD 2), even composer Danny Elfman (DARKMAN), who last I heard would never work with Raimi again after a falling out on SPIDER-MAN 2.

One thing I was interested to see was Sam Raimi in 3D. He’s always been all about the aggressive camera moves, and sure enough he has some fun with the 3D. The amount of depth varies in different scenes. I wondered if this meant it was a really well done convert, but realorfake3d.com classifies it as “Real 3D” and an interview with Raimi reveals that he tried to dial the stereoscopicity down for dialogue scenes and up for action. It’s used really well, particularly for flying creatures and in some of the more show-offy set pieces like the bubble ride down a waterfall, which gave me an authentic rollercoaster feeling (wish he didn’t cut away).

The only minor issue I had with the 3D is a problem with some digital projection. When the camera pans sideways it can cause a jitter that fucks with the 3D, which is bad because this movie uses alot of those type of moves to show off all the Oz scenery. I know in the old days that problem happened on film prints when the shutter wasn’t aligned properly, but I’m not sure why it can happen on digital projection and HDTVs. They need to do something about that.

I hope Raimi doesn’t give up on the more modest movies like DRAG ME TO HELL, but he’s good at these big ass ones too.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 at 1:04 pm and is filed under Family, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Oz the Great and Powerful”

  1. Hmm, I still don’t know. Reckon I might go see TO THE WONDER instead, even if it’s two hours of the camera spinning around a girl in a wheat-field.

  2. Berger did an interview with AICN where he talked about his big job which was designing and executing the new Wicked Witch make-up. That interview is funny because, at the time, Disney wouldn’t let anyone know who was playing the Wicked Witch, so they had to redact her name from the transcript, even though 90% was him telling stories about how she responded to the make-up.

  3. Talking about Raimi, when you review that EVIL DEAD remaquel, please, do not use that one picture from the trailer, where that one girl has that total look of horror on her face. Y’know, THAT ONE FUCKING PICTURE THAT IS ON TOP OF EVERY SINGLE EVIL DEAD ARTICLE!!!!

    Anyway, this (Oz) might be the first Sam Raimi movie, that I’m not exactly interested in. (I even rented FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME as soon as it came out on VHS!) But I’m glad to hear that it is better than the trailers.

    BTW, am I the only one who thinks that it’s a shame that mainstream-Raimi-collaborator J.K. Simmons isn’t in it? After all, it’s an OZ movie! (Maybe they wanted to avoid that the older audience members make assrape jokes when he appears.)

  4. The munchkins were totally multicultural. Lotsa Asians and blacks and Latinos. I noticed because, in typical hollywood fashion, there were ZERO roles for minority actors for the first hour And change. But on e ou get to the munchkins, shits a regular rainbow coalition.

    By the by, did anyone notice that the last muppet movie was an all-white affair until the 73 minute mark?

  5. “In a dark metropolis populated with characters from classical folklore, detectives Tom Thumb and Rachel Riding investigate a murder that brings them into contact with the city’s most dangerous inhabitants.”

    That’s kinda the plot of a well-loved long running comic book series, FABLES, and a network TV show (Ever After, I think).

  6. I’m debating whether or not to see this in theaters in 3D or wait for blu ray, what say you guys?

  7. Yes Downey was supposed to do this movie, but according to the LA Times the one meeting between him and Sam Raimi went south real quick. Raimi had given RDJ a gift earlier, a potted plant. So Raimi went to RDJ’s house to find that same plant in the corner, neglected and dead.

    Which honestly sounds like a long lost IRON MAN scene if you ask me.

  8. Well, that’s a bummer. Raimi and Downey working together might have actually made me excited to see this instead of just being resigned to getting it at the library in the three months.

    But I guess if there’s anyone who knows how much damage a plant can do, it’s Raimi.

  9. yeah, I totally forgot RDJ was originally going to be in this

  10. The plant trick? Was Raimi planning on hiring RDJ or dating him?

  11. Hearing good things about the new Evil Dead and this.

  12. I kinda enjoyed it. It reminded me a lot of Army of Darkness. The title-sequence was amazing, though.

  13. Brimstone – I have no idea how Fables has not been picked up as a series or movie. Bill Willingham’s politics eventually forced me to leave the series, which is a shame because there really were some interesting aspects to that series. It’s like everyone is stealing from Fables, but Willingham isn’t getting any money or credit.

    I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing the new Oz. It’s hard to compete with the original. But I do love me some Raimi. I’ll probably wait for DVD.

  14. RBatty- Probably because it’s so easy to make a “Fairy tales in modern day” series without having to pay Willingham for the rights, or worry about adapting the book’s content for mass audience.

  15. RETURN TO OZ is terrific, which I should have mentioned earlier. Shame Murch directed nothing since then.

  16. Holden, they kinda have to use that pic for Evil Dead Remaquelmagining, cause it’s about the only one out there that doesn’t have a split tongue or wide open face featured prominently….

  17. Can’t they just use the poster then? Also the people who write about 2Tar Trek and always use that one shot of the blonde girl screaming, don’t have an excuse for their constant over use of that image.

  18. Darth Irritable

    March 13th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I dunno, cause Chris Pine doesn’t have boobs?

  19. I watched it with my better half and she unfortunately did not like it, citing the acting as the main cause. I, of course, was giggling with delight my way through it precisely because of what she referred to as “intentionally bad acting”.

    Franco was hamming it up to the millionth degree and was clearly having a ball with doing green screen. Loved his dickish, sideshow carny huckster character. And yes, I did love how earnest all of the witches were played by the actors. The only thing I didn’t understand was why Rachel Weisz was in this because when I think of the type of character she was playing, the last thing I think of is Rachel Weisz.

    Aside from the requisite Bruce Campbell cameo, I also did like how Raimi somehow managed to put one of his “shemps” from Evil Dead into it towards the end of it. I did not manage to spot his car in this one though. Anyone can tell where it was?

  20. Dikembe Mutombo

    March 13th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Nice review Vern. Your Black List skewering is hilarious and spot-on. I think I probably liked this movie less than you did, mostly due to fatigue re: the trend you mention of big budget revisionist fairy tale type things. Being a hero’s journey prequel thingie doesn’t do it any favors either. I definitely wouldn’t have seen it if it wasn’t for Raimi.

    But still, I enjoyed it pretty solidly. It has some funny scenes and some cool Raimi touches (like the witch’s claw scraping across the marble table). I liked Rachel Weisz a lot, she really had the right approach for the material. I wished Raimi injected a little more scary/horror type stuff in there, like Peter Jackson does sometimes in his big budget stuff. The original Wizard of Oz is super scary for kids, that’s one of the coolest things about it. There’s some of that in this, but I don’t think it’s gonna freak any kids out. But I could be wrong, since I’m not a kid.

  21. Vern mentioned HANSEL & GRETEL, and I must ask: Was I the only local who sorta enjoyed that one?

    Considering the bad reviews it got, I surprised by the absurd violence with the camp humor underlining that whole movie. I was reminded almost of ABE LINCOLN VAMPIRE HUNTER last summer or PUNISHER: WAR ZONE many years ago. The R-rated comic book movie (though not based on one) is a dying species, so I try to support them.

    What? If Mr. Majestyk can enjoy Mr. Milla J’s 3 Musketeers movie, I can enjoy this too. I recommend it. But its trash, but a decent one at that.

    (And seriously, what other movie gives you a siamese twins vampire for Hawkeye to fight?)

  22. I liked HANSEL AND GRETEL. I got exactly what I expected from it, trashy, tongue in cheek fun.

    Tawdry- “By the by, did anyone notice that the last muppet movie was an all-white affair until the 73 minute mark?”
    Rashida Jones.

  23. Elfman did say many times that he would never work with Raimi again, but… KA-CHING!

  24. Effing loved this. It’s so totally and completely Raimi, and the closest thing this generation’s gotten to LABYRINTH, and that’s after the whole HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS series.

  25. David Balls – Or maybe I’m cynical, they kissed and made-up. Remember James Horner swearing the same with James Cameron after ALIENS?

  26. I’m pretty sure that jitter you’re talking about is just an artifact of the frame rate. For some reason, what the eye accepts in a 2D pan looks stuttery in 3D. I noticed James Cameron was pretty cautious with pans in Avatar, probably for that reason. One argument for 48fps is that it mitigates the problem… which it does, but yeesh, what a tradeoff.

  27. If you seriously thought this movie was worth paying to see in theaters, remind me to let you cover the tickets if you were to ever ask me to the movies. The acting could have been far better. It just didn’t have that full dedication and whole heartedness of the original OZ. The storyline could have been better and alot funnier. I couldnt tell if this movie was supposed to be a comedy or serious like the original, although it was a joke.

  28. I’ll go ahead and declare the first appearance of the Wicked Witch in this as the long-awaited successor to the oft-mentioned Robot Lady in Superman III. It’s absolutely horrifying, especially in IMAX 3D, and the following scene, with the Ring-like jittery motions and hyperactive swirling camera, made me feel uneasy in a way I haven’t felt in years. I actually looked away from the screen for a little bit.

    I actually think the casting is kind of genius (SPOILERS I guess?) – I heard reports they were trying to cover up who played the witch, and like many people, I thought “Wait isn’t it just Rachel Weisz?”. But who eventually plays the witch definitely seems too young and her voice is completely wrong, but in a weird way it made her transformation all the more affecting and sad if that makes any sense.

    The middle act is kind of a bore – there’s obvious Army of Darkness (and Three Amigos!) parallels, but at least Ash freaking mans up pretty quick – Oz waffles and doesn’t take action for WAY too long. But I still kinda loved this movie. The 3D is aggressive and effective, probably the best usage since Avatar. I love that the big finale is bloodless and kind-hearted, for once I was actually DREADING seeing another CGI army battle like Alice in Wonderland. The parallels and callbacks to the original film are clever even though knowledge of the first movie isn’t needed. I don’t know if this is the best prequel ever, but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining and one that doesn’t feel pigeonholed in by its predecessor.

  29. so guys, this is off topic and I really couldn’t find an appropriate movie to discuss this, so I just picked one at random, but I’ve been hearing some seriously scary shit on the news and on the internet involving Syria, supposedly WW3 is on the horizon, you have all the elements, America, Russia, Israel and Arabs (ones that cut out and eat people’s hearts too), it’s like throwing a bunch of volatile chemicals together in a vat and sadly it looks like Obama is just as stupid as we feared he is and is going to get involved instead of leave it the fuck alone

    it’s enough to make you nostalgic for the salad days of earlier this year, when it didn’t look like the Goddamn apocalypse was about to happen, it would be very ironic indeed if as people were worrying over Kim kardashian’s baby fucking WW3 snuck up on our asses

    what are your thoughts? Mouth, care to weigh in on this?

  30. I guess it wil take some time for a lot of people in the west to get used to the fact that while the USA cluelessly bulldozes it’s way around the world, getting into bed with some really bad guys and creating chaos in countries that won’t jump when the American president say so, Russia and China keeps calm and speaks the truth. A third front? Haven’ Obama learnt anything from history? The fall of the American empire is near.

  31. I know I should and yes, I do feel bad, but to be honest, during my 31 years on this planet I witnessed so many possible WWIII situations (and I’m not just talking about the shit that went down during the last decade), that I stopped paying attention and probably won’t start until the first intercontinental bombs are flying. It will be too late by then and I know it is both arrogant and ignorant, but I can’t shit my pants every time one of our leaders sends some troops to a country, that most of us know only from the news or something like that.

  32. I guess we really should implement that forum thing so there’s a place for off-topic stuff.

  33. Knox Harrington

    June 17th, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Yeah, I have to be honest, I never really had any interest in the Forum side of things here. Forums are usually too much of a schlep for me to be arsed with them. Too big, too many topics and tangents to keep track of. Also, I hate re-registering for stuff (Hell, I’m too lazy to answer my e-mails most of the time). That’s why the comments section of Vern’s reviews are enough for me. Also, I like that it kinda forces you to stay on track and stick to the subject at hand, even though it is nice to have a Potpourri section where we can just talk shit every now and then.

    Anyway, I feel your frustration, Chris. You guys must have put a lot of thought and hard work into it. Are some people still using it?

  34. I’m going to be honest, I miss the days of Potpourri too, the forum has not really worked out I’m sorry to say, it’s too barren

    anyway, I’ve become increasingly cynical about Obama, I don’t dislike him for the same reasons conservatives do obviously, but it’s starting to seem like the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true

    ask yourself this, if something like this happened in the 90’s, would Clinton have kept us out of war? the 90’s was the 90’s, he just got lucky that there happened to be a strange thing called “peace” going on for a couple of years

    it just seems like it always goes to their head, no matter what party or who they are, when they get the chance to play with all of America’s wonderful war toys, they just can’t resist, either that or whether we go to war or not is not actually their decision, but that’s getting into conspiracy theory territory

  35. If some shit does go down I’ll try to remember that I first heard the news that “supposedly WW3 is on the horizon” in the OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL thread. Hopefully Griff’s post will become a voiceover on the Ken Burns documentary.

  36. Somebody else notices the OZ/Army of Darkness connection.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=x7RrJWJCUcw

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