Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Oz" was Great AND Powerful

This winter was the release of Disney’s latest film “Oz the Great and Powerful.”  Based off of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” series and as the prequel to the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz,” this film further explores the fantasy Land of Oz.  Audience members get to see how expansive it really is, as “Oz” is a feast for the eyes.  It awakened aesthetic appreciation I didn’t know I had. 

Director Sam Raimi takes on this heavily weighted project.  Previously the director of the Spiderman movies and many action TV series such as “Spartacus,” Raimi takes on a big task of reviving a classic while adding some distinct flare to it. 

Upon seeing the trailer for this film last fall, I was reluctant to express my excitement.  I grew up with “The Wizard of Oz” and I was nervous that the 2013 predecessor to the movie almost seventy-five years older than it was going to be a massive train wreck.  However, I was delightfully surprised to find that this film was not a disappointment. 

The film starts out with opening credits reminiscent of a nickelodeon from the 1930’s in sepia (very similar to its predecessor “The Wizard of Oz”), as it takes place in 1905 Kansas.  Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a small-town magician, looking to make it big with his sleight of hand tricks and prestidigitation.  His petty attempts to achieve fame and build up a fortune knock him down constantly.  His partner (Zach Braff) Frank loses faith as him as his ethics weaken and he slowly becomes nothing. 

When a tornado hits the circus, Oz takes flight in a flying air balloon that transports him to a Technicolor wonderland. Literally.  He shortly meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who informs him that he must be the wizard whose arrival will fulfill the prophesy of killing the bad witch and bring the Land of Oz back to its glory.  Even though Oz doesn’t possess the magic that the people of Oz think he has, he agrees to help in order to become king, once he kills the witch.  Before he knows it, Oz is thrown into a fantasy land where anything is possible, and becomes caught between three feuding sister witches, Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). 

For what it was worth, “Oz” was absolutely spectacular.  The sets Disney used seemed infinite, as the Land of Oz unfolded before me in the theatre.  Nothing pleased me more than watching James Franco fumble through the beautiful Land of Oz for two hours.  It was the perfect combination of the charm from the old film while incorporating the technology of the 21st century to expand upon everything.  Everywhere in the Land of Oz went in the film had its own style, especially the art-deco Emerald City.   

The costumes were elaborate as well.  Each character had one that reflected their personality, which is important.  If costuming is done wrong, then it is harder to relate to certain characters and understand why they behave in certain ways.  I was most impressed with Williams’ dress, which was simple but beautiful.  Make-up also reflected the personalities of the characters; the darker the eye-shadow, the less you were able to trust the characters for what they were up to. 

Compared to the 1939 film, “Oz” was a lot darker.  Everything wasn’t all singing scarecrows, ruby slippers and talking apple trees.  The special effects used were rather impressive.  Animated creatures were fantastic; the animators who created them were very detail-oriented as everything was so perfect. 

The cinematographic aspects of “Oz” were closely linked to that of “The Wizard of Oz.”  Most significantly, the film goes from a full-screen sepia experience and then turns into a full-screen Technicolor work of art.  The sound effects also shift from a mono-aural to surround sound experience. 

Franco makes it to Oz via tornado, like Dorothy in the 1939 film.  Characters in the Kansas part of the film also do cameos in the Oz portion (for example, Braff and Williams).  Producers snuck in the nuances of the classic characters the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.  Glinda does travel by bubbles.  Williams wears a gingham dress in the film, the same pattern as Dorothy does.  Munchkin-Landers do indeed sing and dance (or at least attempt to until James Franco cuts them off).  The evil witches do indeed send flying monkeys upon the people of Oz to unleash havoc beyond what the 1939 film could do effect-wise. 

Most iconic, although it is not mentioned in the film, the characters continually travel along a yellow brick road.  If you pay attention enough to these nuances, you will be able to find them, and potentially more than what I had picked up. 

Due to Warner Brothers Pictures’ rights, Disney was unable to rebirth some of the more iconic aspects of “The Wizard of Oz.”  For instance, no reference or use of the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore is present.  Disney wasn’t able to use the exact shade of green for the witch’s make-up either from the original film.  However, their legal department was able to arrange for a slightly different color to be used called theostein. 

The casting for the film was pretty fair.  James Franco doesn’t take away from the film.  I found it very entertaining seeing him traveling through Oz, and I can’t see any actors playing the role of Oz and doing as good of a job as he did.  Although Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp were both offered the leading role, I think they would have been too old to bring the gentle charm Franco offers.  The supporting actors and actresses were fit for the roles they portrayed.  I was particularly impressed with Mila Kunis, as her presence in the film made her become a more versatile actress in my mind. 

While watching “Oz” I forgot that I was watching a Disney film.  It is far from what I would expect Disney Studios to produce, which was a nice change from what normally comes out of there.  “Oz” takes on a dark, mature persona that will keep audiences captivated. 

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