Friday, 29 March 2013

Film review - "Oz the Great and Powerful" by Sam Raimi

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)              ★ 1/2 

There is a trend in modern cinema of working off old classics – whether it is book, play or film. Instead of reproducing a staple of storytelling, director Sam Raimi creates his own world with slightly twisted characters boasting a clever script and sleek production.

Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a small-time circus magician with meagre success – but when the infamous tornado hits Kansas he is transported from the dusty plains of Kansas to the magical Oz. When all its residents believe that he fulfils a prophecy to become their king, it seems as if he has received newfound fortune. However, a power struggle between three witches challenges his role and before long he is drawn into the problems of Oz.

Following from the original Disney production, the film opens in black and white before exploding into colour. The plot acts as a prelude to the original, yet with a darker undertone. The scenes are impressive and imaginary but the story is disconnected from the strong visuals.

It is one of the only films I have enjoyed watching in the 3D. Apart from the occasional 90s-style effects (spears flying at the audience, witches reaching out of the screen, fireworks exploding outwards) – we are invited into a world both fantastical yet realistic. Once the colour is switched on, Oz produces enchanting visuals in an Avatar-style environment.

The cast captures the historic magic of the circus in their own ways –James Franco as the wizard with his quirky facial expressions (and general laissez-faire attitude), Mila Kunis alluring yet surprisingly wicked as the dark witch Theodora and Michelle Williams as the good witch Glinda, bestowing a peaceful power reserved for the likes of Mother Theresa. Zach Braff brings a comical lightness to the power struggle, as a magician's assistant, and supporting Franco in his role.

The resolution harks back to stereotypes – Glinda the good (blonde, princess-looking, soft-spoken) triumphs over the evil, darker sisters. Disappointingly, the plot loses its modern twist and weakens its edge.

Like musical counterpart Wicked, Oz is more of a look at the morality of power than those in power. It’s been marketed at the young, but Oz goes beyond the simple family film. It’s quite a long film and terrifying at times (explosions and fight scenes not so PG) but by no means a laborious watch. For some reason, I’m left feeling less enchanted than at the start.

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