Sure to please widescreen-spectacle junkies while outraging some Oz purists, Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” may very well prove divisive, which is ultimately ironic for such an innocuous flick.
Based on L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” this über-Hollywood pseudo-prequel to the Judy Garland classic takes a forthright more-is-more approach, sparing no expense while rendering the classic land in showy computer-generated imagery. It’s sometimes a bit much, and what’s more, time has not been kind to the world just over the rainbow, for after 70-plus years of post-“Wizard of Oz” fantasy, the realm seems suddenly nondescript.
Sure, there’s the Yellow Brick Road, the poppy field, and the Emerald City (whose architecture is far more explored), but there’s also flora and fauna that read “Alice in Wonderland,” rock formations that bring “Avatar” to mind, Oz folk who seem to hail from Whoville, and scenic set pieces that could fit just fine in Middle-Earth.
The plot, you ask? This “Oz” largely functions as a road-paver for Dorothy Gale’s adventure, with the con-artist Wiz (a game James Franco) earning his hallowed place as the land’s bag-o’-tricks leader, Glinda (Michelle Williams) making her intro as pure-souled friend to Munchkins and the like, and sisters Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz) forging their wickedness as two witches all will eventually recognize.
In the minus column, the weak script has too many wink-wink, modern-skewed gags; the narrative builds to an unfortunate, blockbuster-requisite battle; and Kunis, for one, is glaringly miscast. But those who can see past all of that, and not obsess over the sanctity of the Oz mythos, can really appreciate what director Sam Raimi has achieved here.
Making fine use of the 3-D format and offering some awesome action sequences (like when our Wizard pulls a Dorothy and gets swept away by a cyclone), Raimi unabashedly orchestrates a fun house ride. Though sadly stripped of nuance, this is a cheeky film about illusion and showmanship, and the director, thankfully, is plenty adept at both.
Two-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens tomorrow at area theaters
The highly deserving victor of this year’s Visual Effects Oscar, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” was one of last year’s grandest and most gorgeous technical feats, boasting peerless computer-generated creations, ocean-set action that will never be forgotten, and mystic phenomena that constantly wows the eyes.
A distressingly bad script hampers the film’s bookends, but nothing tarnishes the awe of its beautiful central act, which uses a stranded boy and his tiger to highlight wonder both vast and infinitesimal.
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