And not in a good way. WARNING WARNING here be spoilers, or at least spoilery reflections on my advanced screening of “Oz the Great and Powerful.” There also may be an opportunity to win some cookies.
Last weekend I was treated to an advanced viewing of the new Oz film. A rather wonderful treat for a sick girl. I was quite excited to see this movie which had thus far looked quite promising. A lot of buzz had built up about the visuals in this movie and from what I’d heard, this seemed like the sort of film where 3D had a real purpose. I settled into my chair with my 3D glasses and waited for the flick to start.
The opening credit scene was breathtaking. It evokes the older film feeling of the original, back in the days when you used to have open credit sequences, and it was completely immersive. The artwork, the effects…the opening scene tells an entire story all on its own. I was hooked and couldn’t wait for the movie to start. Then it all went downhill from there. It’s bad when the opening scenes, sepia toned and in boring old Kansas, are the most enjoyable of the film.
Now don’t get me wrong, the visuals hold up through the entire movie. There are some of the more “gotcha” 3d moments that I stopped enjoying once I turned 10. You know, the things spears that fly out at you through the screen, the rug flare out in your face…I don’t need those kinds of gimmicks. To balance these out though are just moments where you really feel like you are exploring this magical land of Oz—and one particular waterfall scene that made me go “oh this is so going to be a ride at Disneyland” and then “I feel like I’m already on the ride.” Sadly the visual effects are the only part of the film with any depth.
The story itself is very weak and takes too long to tell itself. It’s not particularly surprising—you’re going to have the whole story figured out pretty much as soon as the witches take the screen. Still I wasn’t going to judge for that alone. Since it’s a prequel we already know what the end result is going to be anyway. The real reason the story just couldn’t hold up was that the character of Oz, and the casting, were both very, very bad. Fratboy bad. Oz is not a likeable person—he reminds me of every frat boy I ever warned my sorority sisters about and James Franco just exacerbates this because he really, really reminds me of those same boys. Mila Kunis who plays Theodora **SPOILER aka the wicked witch of the west** is by contrast that stereotypical “crazy” sorority girl. She gets her heart set on the first boy who ever looks her way and starts singing her way to the chapel after the first date. The sort of girl who makes you want to say “oh, honey” TRIVIA TIME: what show is that a reference from? Win a prize!
Mila Kunis playing such a desperate, naïve character had another unintended consequence: the entire time I was hearing Meg Griffin. Way to pull me out of the story. This hasn’t happened with her in other roles. It’s because this character is so, so…pathetic. She reminded me a great deal of a girl I knew in college. The refrain of “I slept with him, now he won’t call me back so I’m going to act out crazy like to make him see how much he hurt me and maybe then he’ll learn” is not new to my ears. It is painful to see blown up on screen. Much to my annoyance I don’t ever get the feeling that the Franco character does acknowledge his role in the transformation that takes place in Kunis. Instead it seems like the blame gets shifted entirely to Evanora—Rachel Weisz’s character.
Weisz is underutilized in this film. It’s depressing. She’s incredibly talented and beautiful, and quite early establish as eeeeevil but unlike Theodora, whose motivation for wickedness we understand, we never get a reason behind Evanora’s hatred of Glinda. The magic is 3D but the character development is pretty damn shallow. Michelle Williams was also not used effectively to my mind. She wasn’t the best on cast, but she did a damn good job at emulating the speech of the original Glinda. The most interesting scenes in the film after reaching the land of Oz were when these two interacted.
Lastly the film manages to make a number of nice references to elements of the original and yet it ignores the most glaringly obvious piece of Oz lore. I couldn’t believe it when the end credits ran and there was no mention of **WARNING HERE BE SPOILERS** the ruby slippers. Not a whisper. The film manages to introduce Dorothy’s parents, provide a potential backstory for Ms. Gulch’s hatred of the girl, scarecrows, cowardly lions and flying monkeys oh my! Yet no mention of the damn slippers. There was even a perfect way to incorporate them that I thought I had figured out while viewing the film. See the witches have power sources—Glinda has her wand, Evanora an emerald jewel and Theodora a ruby ring. Destroy the power source and destroy (or at least cripple) the witch. Evanora manipulates Theodora in the film, it’s true. I kept thinking aha! Theodra will figure out how her sister manipulated her into becoming the wicked witch we know and love and turn on her. In order to protect herself from Theodora, Evanora transforms the ring into the slippers and so long as she wears them Theodora can’t hurt her without destroying her own powersource. That would explain why she’s so eager to get them back when someone else finally disposes of her sister and why she can’t harm Dorothy either. But no. No mention of it at all. What a wasted opportunity.
The flying monkeys were kind of cool though. Though the “cute” flying monkey failed to evoke the awww out of me. The most endearing character of all was that of “China Doll” and we don’t really get much of her.
2 out of 5 bananas for terrifying winged primates. Rotten Tomato Meter rating: 67% Yikes! Not great for a film that cost a tiny island to produce. Thankfully in life when real bananas go kinda brown and over-ripe they can be transformed into something tasty. I can’t do anything to save Oz, but I can at least offer up a melt in your mouth oh my god this is amazing Banana Cake to the dissatisfied aerial apes. My mom said it was like some sort of heavenly banana twinkie.
From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking from my home to yours”