Written by / 3/08/2013 / No comments / , , , , ,

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

year: 2013 cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams rating: **
Anyone familiar with THE WIZARD OF OZ already knows that the title of this prequel, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, is based on sarcasm. When Dorothy and her pals wind up their journey, they learn that Oz’s awesomeness is simply smoke and mirrors. Thus we have the not so humble beginnings of a charlatan/magician performing in a traveling American circus, whose entire goal is to trick pretty ladies into thinking, well, that he’s great and powerful.

His act goes awry when a crippled young girl, during a performance where Oz levitates an airhead assistant, screams for a cure. The audience turns on our clumsy hero and eventually – after a prolonged conversation with one of his sweeter female conquests – he’s chased out of town, or rather, out of this world. Escaping in a hot air balloon, and then caught in a tornado, Oz ends up in a place bearing his very own nickname.

Shiny and vibrant, the enchanted world uses every color of the rainbow and is (especially in 3D) quite a vision. But James Franco, as our title character, has such a dull expression entering the kingdom, you’d think he was still in the black-and-white Middle America he’d just left. While it took Dorothy (and even Toto) at least fifteen minutes to really soak things in, Oz seems bored and grumpy right from the start.

Upon crash landing, he quickly meets a pretty and docile brunette named Theodora, who turns out not so innocent. Within the magical Emerald City – a mere hop, skip and jump down that familiar Yellow Brick Road – she and her older, powerful sister Evanora have been, along with every Oz resident, waiting for a Wizard (any Wizard) to arrive.

Oz wields his signature glib charm and is given a task to find the Wicked Witch. If he kills her, the entire kingdom, along with tons of gold, will be all his own. For a nickel-and-dime con artist, this will be progression in droves.

Whereas the 1939 classic relied on an adventure with an eclectic foursome, there are hardly any interesting or memorable characters present. Oz meets a friendly flying monkey, a china doll girl, and the real good witch, Glinda, and before you know it the two Emerald City witches have argued themselves into a horrendously rushed fate.

Mila Kunis’s Theodora becomes an ugly cackling hag, and when we cut back to Oz and his pals (who have entered a city protected by a large bubble), it’s all about waging a revolutionary battle. The best scenes involve Oz, not sure how to defeat an entire army of flying baboons, doing what he does best: making a big show out of tricks – just like back home.

The biggest problem with this Sam Raimi spectacle is it’s not spectacular enough. Sure, the special effects are somewhat impressive, but the Land of Oz is merely a backdrop for a basic two-tier story: A reluctant magician arrives one minute; and the next he’s helping a bunch of underdogs fight a (compared to the original) very bland menace.

The actors seem bored with too much dialogue, while the Danny Elfman soundtrack, wielding his usual frantic violin squeezebox, is too repetitious. But the most important thing missing is a journey. And that’s because (POOF!) there really isn’t one at all.
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