Friday, 22 March 2013

Review: Oz: The Great and Powerful

Year: 2013
Director: Sam Rami
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchell Kapner
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zack Braff

Synopsis is here:

I love those moments of spectacle in a film which give off that feeling of wonder. There's nothing I like more than being carried away by a movie moment. An instant when I can forget about the how and the why and I'm just there with the character. The magic takes me and I'm no longer "just watching a movie". Pretentious? Perhaps, but that's just me. Like music, I enjoy being whipped up in the emotion of it all.
Here are two examples of such moments for me:
• When Peter Parker learns how to Web Sling in Sam Rami's Spider-Man (2002)

• When Dorothy finds herself in the Land of Oz in the 1939 film; The Wizard of Oz

I'll happily spew hyperbole about the joy of watching those moments. All big film fans have them and these are just two of mine. Moments that capture a certain "magic".

In an event of serendipity these two scenes are now bizarrely bound together, with Rami now directing Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel to the aforementioned Wizard of Oz based on the characters and situations from the introductory book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

We all know of the old adage if it's not broke, don't fix it. Such a quote applies heavily to a film like Oz: The Great and Powerful, for a matter of reasons. It should surprise no one that Disney is the studio behind the film and that the producers are the same guys who undertook Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010). So it also shouldn't shock you that the film has no surprises.

From a narrative standpoint; Oz follows Burton's risible re-imagining almost beat for beat with little to no diversity and in this day and age, why not? If you have a movie that made over a billion dollars worldwide why muck around with the blue print? However, Rami, his screenwriters and cinematographer Peter Deming manage to infuse the feature with stronger humour, visual appeal and a tad more emotion. Despite being quite forgettable (it's only been a day and I'm struggling to remember the film), Oz manages to be sweet enough but not saccharine sickly.
Despite Rami seemingly being under orders to imitate another filmmaker (seriously check out the Danny Elfman score and Weisz's Helena Bonham Carter impression). The film is weighed down enough by an offbeat and amusingly smarmy turn from Johnny Dep...I mean James Franco. Meanwhile Michelle Williams is pleasant enough to drown out Mila Kunis. Kunis; usually a fun actress to watch is miscast in a role that may have needed someone with further range.
The main problem with Oz is quite simply nothing reaches the same dizzying peaks as the glorious sequences I mentioned and enjoyed before. Despite it's sweet nature, there's a distinct whiff of cynicism that wafts over many aspects of this venture of Oz. It's important to remember while the 1939 version of Oz and Rami's own Spider-Man were made to make money, they feature moments which break past that fact for someone like me. Oz the film is a little like Oz the man, an amusing aside, but a bit of a con.