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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

What's this? A new movie? You better believe it...

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

Detailing the events that lead up to The Wizard of Oz, we meet the Great Wizard himself as a younger man named Oscar Diggs, a small-time magician working in a travelling carnival as he tries desperately to hit the big time. Opportunity comes a' knocking, however, after he's transplanted to the magical land of Oz and is greeted as the great saviour prophesied to kill the Wicked Witch and to bring peace at last to the land – but to do so he has to first decide whether his destiny lies in being a great man or a good man.

What we thought

It's astounding how in the 75 years since the release of the classic 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum's beloved children's novel, there has been a noticeable reticence to try and return the Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the big screen – or, for that matter, to even tackle Baum's (and others') many Oz sequels. There has been the odd sequel or homage to the Judy Garland-starring masterpiece, but none of any note. If you wanted more of Baum's fantastical world you had to rely either on the novels themselves or on various stage adaptations or even on the really rather good Marvel Comics adaptations of the novels.

So beloved and so untouchable is the original film that it's only now, in 2013, that we finally get to see a major cinematic expansion of this classic fantasy world. With this then, comes big expectations and even bigger reservations as director Sam Raimi (Spider-man, The Evil Dead) audaciously dares to try and live up to one of the all-time great Hollywood productions.

Does he succeed? Well, no, of course not. There was never even the slightest chance that he would live up to the original: it's just too big, too momentous and too perfect for that. Still, just because Oz the Great and Powerful is nowhere near the classic that The Wizard of Oz persists in being, doesn't mean that it isn't a worthwhile film on its own, nor that it does anything to tarnish the perfection of its predecessor.

What Raimi has done is nothing less than creating a film that not only honours The Wizard of Oz, but builds on it without ever seeming even remotely sacrilegious. This isn't an Oz film without its problems but it is an Oz film, and a very solid one at that. This also isn't some smartass, post-modern take on a classic fairy tale but is, despite all its CGI visuals and wonderfully distinctive visual style, an unabashedly straight forward fairy tale geared towards kids – and, ironically, is sure to win over adults all the more for that.

Oz The Great and Powerful is flawed in exactly the ways that you probably expect it to be at the outset (too much CGI and a definite case of prequelitis, ie. the knowledge of where everything happening on screen has to lead) but otherwise avoids all the pitfalls that a Wizard of Oz prequel should really otherwise fall into. It's not smug, it's not humourless, it's not overly stupid and it isn't so in awe of the original that it forgets to tell its own tale, while still constantly paying homage to and expanding on it.

Sam Raimi has simply crafted a wonderfully enjoyable, witty kids-fantasy film, but one that has his delightfully quirky directorial stamp all over it. Sure, the over-reliance on CGI does mean that some of his trademark physicality is lost, but no one moves the camera like Sam Raimi and few directors could hope to match his punchy kineticism.

He has also assembled a top cast and James Franco, in particular, is perfect as the untrustworthy but massively charming and likeable reluctant hero of the title, while Zach Braff hasn't been this funny in years as his sidekick, in both human and flying-monkey forms. Not to be outdone, all three of the film's leading ladies are excellent as well, even if Michelle Williams as the angelic Good Witch must surely be a bit jealous of her not-so-Good witchy sisters, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, getting a chance to really vamp it up. And don't forget to look out for the obligatory and hilariously physical Bruce Campbell cameo as well.

In the end, Oz the Great and Powerful is hardly going to go down as a major classic but if you're looking for a well above average, classically told fairy tale with great performances and a punchy directorial vision, it's a far, far better alternative to pretty much all the fairy tale “re-imaginings” that we have had to put up with recently.  

South Africans, click here to book now or to view showtimes for the 3D version. or here for 2D

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