Review: Oz, The Great and Powerful

Oz: The Great and Powerful is still in cinemas. The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle reviews it… 

James Franco stars as Oz

James Franco stars as Oz

1939’s The Wizard of Oz, based on the books of L Frank Baum, is rightly loved all over the world. Technically impressive for its day, it was one of the first films shot in Technicolour, and the story of Dorothy captures children and adults’ hearts even today.

But anyone who knows their Baum books will tell you, the story of Oz was not just confined to Dorothy. Oz: The Great and Powerful takes place twenty years before Dorothy gets swept up by the tornado.

Oscar “Oz” Diggs(James Franco) is a charming and caddish circus magician. In a lovely nod to the original and the author, we watch him fall foul of the Baum Brothers’ Circus strongman in black and white. He finds himself swirled away from Kansas in  a hot-air balloon. In another reference to the original, many of the people he encounters are played by actors who appear back in Kansas.

One of the most impressive sequences is when we watch Oz getting caught up in the tornado. Sadly, the effects of the thirties simply can’t compete with today’s CGI. While Dorothy’s spell in the storm was more like a dream sequence, Oz’s experience is truly spectactular. The land of Oz itself is equally spectacular: the jewelled flowers are a gorgeous example.

Oz (the man) is picked up by the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis), who, wide-eyed, hails him as the saviour of the land. The kingdom is trouble: an evil witch killed her father, the king, and the prophecy says only a wizard can save them. Accustomed to charming the ladies, Oz immediately lets her believe that he is the wizard. When he sees the gold on offer in Emerald City and Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) he thinks he has it made. Except he must kill the wicked witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams). Accompanied by his loyal monkey servant Finley (Zach Braff) and China Girl (Joey King), he sets out out on the Yellow Brick Road.

Hang on… Glinda is the wicked witch? Of course, it turns out that Evanora is the evil one (brunette witches are never good in Oz!) and she turns Theodora to the dark side too. Our favourite Wicked Witch of the West, played so wonderfully by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, is one and the same as Theodora. She is driven by intense jealousy (hence the green skin) after seeing Oz flirt with both Evanora and Glinda. In another wonderful nod to the original, Theodora’s tears burn her skin.

While visually stunning, and with a witty and warm script, Oz: The Great and Powerful overstays its welcome. It’s over two hours long. While James Franco is perfect as the almost too-sweet-to-be-wholesome Oz, the witches are not so convincing. Rachel Weisz is too brittle to be really evil, and Mila Kunis is too petulant to be a truly wicked witch.

However, there’s a lot of good things about the film, not least the climax, which cleverly combines technology from the real world to fool the witches of Oz. It also establishes the status quo we’re familiar with in The Wizard of Oz, although I would have loved a mention of the ruby slippers. The China Girl (literally a porcelain doll) is a marvellous piece of technical engineering.

For fans of the original, it’s a lovely, eye-candy homage to The Wizard of Oz. Surely, L Frank Baum’s stories could have no better legacy than their continued life on screen.

*Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

Oz: The Great and Powerful is still in cinemas. The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle reviews it… 

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