Film review: Oz The Great And Powerful

Oz The Great And Powerful 

(PG) ***

Director: Sam Raimi.

Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King.

A PREQUEL to The Wizard Of Oz? Who would be fool enough to try to emulate such a landmark piece of movie-making?

After all, such cinematic lightning has never struck twice for the many reimaginings of L Frank Baum's beloved story through the years. The dark 1985 sequel Return To Oz, the 1976 Aussie rock'n'roll version Oz, the 1978 African-American take The Wiz, The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz - the best any of these has achieved is a status as a cult favourite, and none of them have come close to reaching the lofty heights the 1939 classic.

This belated predecessor would like to think it's cut from the same cloth as the film that it's prequeling, but really this is more like Tim Burton's recent adaptation of Alice In Wonderland.

It collects familiar tics and tricks from its source, it tries to mould a solid story to some sketchy background information, and it does it all with an over-abundance of shiny computer-generated imagery.

In the context of what it's up against, what had come before, and what director Sam Raimi and scriptwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner are trying to do, Oz The Great And Powerful is as good as it could be.

It tells the story of how a carnival magician named Oscar Diggs ended up in the magical land of Oz and ended up becoming its Wonderful Wizard.

In spite of the film's propensity to answer questions no one was asking (Why is the wicked witch wicked? Why does she fly on a broom? What's the deal with that wizard guy?), it's a solid enough look at one man's journey to overcome his own caddishness and become a good man.

Standing between Oscar and the incalculable riches of the Emerald City are three witches (played by Kunis, Williams and Weisz), and the movie's main conceit is figuring out which one is good, which one is wicked, and which one is a homicidal maniac.

The familiarities are innocuous enough and mostly endearing - the black-and-white real world changing into the colour of Oz is done well, there is a selection of anthropomorphic creatures to join Oscar on his journey, there's a reference to a cowardly lion, and the tricks that the wizard would later hide behind are used as plot points.

Wisely, Oz The Great And Powerful is not a musical, and it makes a slightly predictable but still worthwhile joke about the fact. 

It certainly looks a million dollars (or $200 million apparently) and most of the CGI is pretty good, even if it is over-the-top and filled with unnecessary detours as opposed to necessary details.

There are some decent family laughs in there and the characters are fleshed out reasonably well. Franco is good and gets strong support from the trio of witches, particularly Kunis and Weisz.

Overall the film is decent enough. It was never going to be exceptional and it was going to be impossible for it to much the wonder of its 1939 follow-up. The story is too constrained by what comes next when Judy Garland's Dorothy arrives to be surprising or feel fresh, but Oz The Great And Powerful is adequate for a film that no one was asking for. 

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