Oz the Great and Powerful, 2013.
Directed by Sam Raimi.
Starring James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, and Bill Cobbs.
A small-time magician with dubious ethics is transported to the enchanting land of Oz, where he encounters three witches and is given the opportunity to transform himself into a great wizard and an even greater man.
We're off to see the Wizard, the great and powerful and wonderful and funny and magical Wizard of Oz. However this time, he's a rather handsome buck in the form of James Franco, swooning witches left and right, while more likely to make a quick-buck with dodgy magic than save a kingdom from certain distraction. If only he had a brain...
After his hiatus from big-budget fare since the critical and fan backlash to Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi returns to the blockbuster arena. Re-energised after the brilliant Drag Me to Hell, as well as overseeing the Evil Dead remake, he continues his upward momentum again, even if he goes for a more reserved approach that may cause his more avid fans to raise an eyebrow. The "sell-out" cries start here.
Raimi smartly chose Franco to add some boyish charm to the ol' Wizard, who we meet in Kansas, as his touring magic show goes from bad to worse. Though still ably supported by his assistant Frank (Scrubs' Zach Braff), his womanising and con-man ethics see him in hot water with the locals, flee in a hot-air balloon (see what they did there?), get sucked into a huge tornado (see what they did here too?) and wake up in Oz.
Met by Theodora (Kunis) on his arrival, who falls head-over-heels almost instantly, he soon learns that of the long-believed Oz prophecy: that a grey wizard will come and save the people of the kingdom, and take their rightful place as King.
But trouble isn’t far behind him, with Theodora’s sister Evanora (Weisz) wanting the throne to herself, much to the dismay of the King’s surviving daughter Glenda (Williams), who believes unequivocally that Oz will be their saviour.
Respectful but not overly samey, Raimi and his screenwriters Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) and David Lindsey-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) have made a beautiful homage to both the original books and the 1939 film. Rather than go for the obvious return to scarecrows or sing-songs, they have gone for something old made new.
Sure, there are some nice touches (the ratio-reduced opening in Kansas a particular success), but this is its own fairytale - rich on colour and life and humour, but full of the same enchantment that captivated the world back in 1939. Raimi's use of 3D, which he had to learn from scratch, is light-years better than some recent efforts (looking at you Prometheus), and adds some wonderful textures to the screen.
Oz himself is more real; quicker witted and charming than before, a perfect fit for the debonair Franco, who has a blast here. Ably supported by some great supporting turns in Braff and Joey King (The Dark Knight Rises), Franco is undoubtedly the star here, and will only add to his already stellar reputation.
The witches too have been given a new lease of life, both in back-story and in the actresses that play them. Kunis is as spell-binding as ever, revelling in the twists and turns of Theodora's love for Oz, while Williams, for all her recent brilliance of the indie-scene, has great fun stretching her muscles as Glinda the Good Witch, and adds a touch of class whenever she's on screen.
If there is a bum-note in proceedings, it's Rachel Weisz. If anyone was perfect for a witchy role it was her, with those gorgeous eyes. But here she looks bored, never really getting out of 1st gear, and unless sharing the screen with her co-stars, her Evanora is a bit of a flatliner.
In addition, despite the 3D aspect working well for the film in its technical aspects, some may still find the whole experience disorientating and nauseating, choosing instead for the 2D version. Still, for the great and powerful to really sweep you away, the 3D version is definitely the one to seek out.
While not the return of Raimi of old some were hoping for, Oz The Great and Powerful is a fantastic achievement, full of wonder, enchantment and warmth. Beautifully realised in all its 3D glory, and ably supported by some great talent at the top of their game, it’s a tremendous homage/reinvigoration of the Oz stories, and one that will captivate all ages.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★