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Oz the Great and Powerful

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Scott Roberts
Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:04:58 pm

As sort of a warning to my perspective on this film, I'm going to be honest and tell you that I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle. I can't say that it was because I saw it at a weird time of the day, or I was "tired" from the night before, or I was too comfortably reclined in my theater seat... But I feel asleep. I know it was only one scene I really missed, because I remember the unbearably long scene starting, then I don't remember anything until I woke up from the sound of my own snore at the end of the scene. I'll admit, poor theater etiquette on my part, I'm not very proud of myself. But I like to think it happened because the middle of this movie is terribly boring. IT'S THE MOVIE'S FAULT.

I know it's probably strange to start a review in the second act, but easily my most glaring criticism of Oz the Great and Powerful is that it starts interesting, it ends fantastically, but the middle chunk of the film is just plain awful. In the original Wizard of Oz, the middle is arguably the best part. It's the meatiest; it has good fun, and lots of substance. In the new version/prequel/whatever it is, the middle consists of introducing us to familiar elements in the messiest kind of way. Even during the scenes when I was fully awake, I don't remember much from the second act. But to the film's credit, the second act is probably the shortest of the three acts. Probably by a lot.

This movie has kind of the opposite phenomenon of last week's Jack the Giant Slayer, which I thought would be a children's film, but ended up more of a big violent action film. I assumed Sam Raimi's Oz would have been more universally appreciated amongst the ages. But it was totally a movie for kids. And I think the second act was nothing but overly expository ramblings about who is really who and why this person needs to be stopped by that person, but explained in mind-numbing simplicity so the wee members of the audience could pick up the pieces. Considering I was able to watch the first act, not remember anything in the second act, and still understand everything in the third act leads me to believe that there was nothing of actual value going on in the middle of this movie.

But the beginning of the film is worthwhile. I was happy that a "fairy tale" type movie wasn't introduced to us in the first act with some kind of stylized "history lesson" of the universe. I'm of the opinion that if you've created a fictional universe and you have to explain the history so bluntly like that, there must be something wrong with the overall storytelling. The only instance I can think where this happened nicely is Fellowship of the Ring, where Middle-Earth's history is tackled quickly, elegantly, and with a subtle touch. I guess I'd rather have the history presented to me in some way THROUGH the actual plot. Or don't tell it at all, and leave it to our imaginations. That works too. But Oz begins entirely with a couple scenes of character development about our protagonist, establishing him as a cheap skate con man with a passion for sleazing his way to women's hearts. Surprisingly, all of these elements end up becoming interesting traits when he arrives in the land of Oz, and the the character Oz becomes an interesting guy with a decent amount of depth, who has to use his cunning to manuever his way to the top.

The man behind the wizard, James Franco, probably wasn't the greatest choice for the role. I've never considered him to be a strong actor, but he usually thrives in the right environment (like as a drug dealer in Pineapple Express, or a stoner in Freaks & Geeks). As the lead in a kid's movie, Franco didn't quite deliver as good as the movie could have offered. He's always had kind of a weird speech pattern, and when he's asked to dumb his lines down for kids, his delivery seemed very forced. "I don't WANT to be a GOOD person, I WANT to be a GREAT one." But at least we get to see his trademark oversized smile and crinkle-skinned face like 100 times throughout the movie.

The rest of the cast ranged from "meh" to "satisfactory". Michelle Williams is boring and brings nothing special to the role of Glinda the good witch. But Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are both alright at hamming it up as the bad witches. Overshadowing all three witches' performances is the very apparent cleavage crammed into every costume. I normally hate Zach Braff in basically everything he does, but he was surprisingly decent as the comic relief voice of the flying monkey servant to the wizard (a monkey that gets verbally abused by Oz until the last 5 minutes or so, then Oz is all like "I guess I need a best friend...!"). I think if I don't have to actually look at Braff's punchable face, I can tolerate him being in a movie. Because Garden State came on HBO in the background while I was working the other day, and it was getting kind of distracting with how much I wanted to roundhouse kick my TV until I changed the channel.

Visually, Oz is pretty alright. It starts with a nice 4x3 black & white style in early 1900's Kansas, and quickly shifts into the colorful world that I've already regrettably seen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Thankfully, the film picks up its own aesthetic down the road (to a degree), and it's all very colorful and vibrant and interesting and whatnot and whatever. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it's also not terrible to look at. Sometimes there would be signature Raimi camera angles, like killer vines flying at our protagonists from a warped first person perspective. It was kind of a Sam Raimi movie. Like, you could tell it was a Sam Raimi movie, but just barely.

Of all the creature designs, I was most impressed with China Girl, as she seemed the most fluid and blended into the environments pretty well for the most part (except the two or three times when Franco had to hug her). The least impressive creature was the wicked witch, mainly because I just didn't dig the make up on Mila Kunis. Seemed off. Meanwhile the flying monkeys and baboons look about how we all would expect CGI monkeys and baboons to look like in a movie from 2013. Probably about 75% of the things in this movie could be described as "cute."

I didn't see this movie in 3D, but I've heard from other sources that the 3D is actually good for this one. I did notice several moments where stuff was flying obnoxiously close to the camera, and it looked stupid and questionable to me, and then I thought to myself "Oh, right... this is also a 3D movie..." and ignored it. Maybe I should have paid the extra $4... Ehhhh, I REGRET NOTHING.

I think, overall, Oz the Great and Powerful can best be described as serviceable. It's not overdone CGI hogwash like Jack the Giant Slayer, but it's also not as fun of a childish action fantasy as, say, Harry Potter or The Hobbit or the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie or something. It doesn't feel like something worthy of starting a new franchise off of. But they *are* planning sequels... I guess it did make some money over the weekend.

An interesting side note that I didn't even think/know about until I read an article about it this morning, is that I guess Warner Bros owns the rights to the 1939 classic film version of the Wizard of Oz, but Disney based Oz the Great and Powerful off the original book, which is public domain. So any element based on the original film, such as the ruby-red slippers, couldn't be anywhere near this Disney version or its merchandise. I guess Warner Bros has a lot planned for the Oz universe in the next couple years (such as an expensive "Game of Thrones-like" Oz television show), and now they have unwanted competition with Disney, even though WB has all the iconic goodies and licensing rights from the '39 version. FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

To close this out, Oz the Great and Powerful is an enjoyable, yet slightly simplistic fantasy tale. I thought despite a bad middle chunk, it has a good beginning and an awesome final 30 minutes or so. I really liked the third act, it's very fun. And the film has an interesting message, especially for kids ("Fake it 'til you make it"). As much as it may have seemed like I disliked it in this review, it's mostly a generically likable movie. I mean that in the best way possible. I wouldn't even be opposed to seeing it again, if it's on HBO or something, but I don't see myself ever *paying* to see it again. I doubt it has much replay value. But if you want to go to a harmless family-type movie, this is way better than Jack the Giant Slayer.

7 out of 10

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Tim Wilson
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 13, 2013 at 6:07:11 am

[Scott Roberts] "Warner Bros owns the rights to the 1939 classic film version of the Wizard of Oz, but Disney based Oz the Great and Powerful off the original book, which is public domain."

The thing nobody has mentioned in any of the reporting I've seen is that this is the wheel of karma coming back around for Disney. Stories like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty have been in the public domain for centuries.

But now, Disney's lawyers are pouncing on any mention whatsoever of glass slippers because they're now so associated with Disney as to fall under the protection of TRADEMARK, rather than copyright...which I think is nonsense. One of the first written versions of the tale is Charles Perrault's version, translated into English as "Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" IN 1697!!! Of course, the original Chinese version goes back to the 9th century, with a gold slipper, and rather than a fairy godmother, her deceased mother, in many versions appearing as a cow or goat. In other words, the storytellers were on some early form of crack. But there's no doubt that the idea of glass slippers were entirely in the public domain before Disney claimed them.

MGM's hold on ruby slippers, though, is also entirely legit. In the book, they were silver shoes. The fifth book in Baum's Oz series is in fact called Silver Shoes. Ruby slippers are an entirely new creation.

BTW, have you read the Oz books? Almost CERTAINLY written entirely on crack as far as I can tell. You can get the barest hint of this in Disney's first crack (hahaha) at the Oz stories in 1985's "Return to Oz" starring Fairuza Balk, and featuring characters like Dorothy's beloved pet chicken (screw that barky dog), a ROBOT (one of the very first in fiction), Oz in ruins and other crazy, crazy stuff that you really need to see to (dis)believe.

Did I mention that it was directed by WALTER MURCH? No? Well it was directed by WALTER MURCH. It was the only feature he directed. (He also directed an episode of The Clone Wars!!! In 2011 I think.) I suspect that one reason the movie failed is that Murch did not direct it while on crack. A larger reason is that audiences did not see it while on crack.

In any case, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put my happiness that Disney tried again with the Oz universe at a 7 - right, Scott? :-)

[Scott Roberts] "I guess it did make some money over the weekend."

$150 million worldwide, $80 million of it domestic....but a verrrry narrow foreign opening, 6 territories. My guess is that once it goes wide abroad that the money's going to really start pouring in.

One guess which territory raked in the most dough this weekend though. Come on, think about it.


You'll definitely guess it if you just think a little morrrre....

Australia. :-)

Also interesting to me: families made up only 41% of the audience. Couples made up 43%!

In other James Franco news, he debuted 2 gay-themed films at SXSW and is saying that advertisers are dropping him from their campaigns as a result. I don't want to joke about this because it's serious, but my takeaway wasn't corporate homophobia. It was, WTF? James Franco is in advertising campaigns?

In other Oz news, Disney was quite nervous about releasing this. There have been lots of fairy tale disasters of late of course, and I think they realized belatedly that this movie starred JAMES FRANCO. While early tracking numbers were indeed pointing straight at $80 million, it doesn't sound like Disney actually bought in. Great reading from NYT.

In other Sam Raimi news, THE BEST overview of his career, and one of the best pieces of film criticism I've read in years, is at, "Career Arc: Sam Raimi. Come Get Some!" You really, really, really need to read this. Seriously, one of the best pieces of film criticism you may have read this century, hilarious, and loaded with awesome clips. Not to be missed.

As always Scott, awesome review.

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW

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Stephen Smith
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:53:11 pm

Here is a movie poster with quotes from two big shots in the industry:

I do remember Return to Oz. It was on TV and my parents taped it. I remember the dudes where on roller blades. I did a quick google search and here is a clip...cation, it may blow your mind:

Take a look at the poster. is that Jack Skellington's brother?

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

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Mike Cohen
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 13, 2013 at 5:18:19 pm

Roller skating was featured in a few notable mid-80's productions. Perhaps the roller skate industry saw their future demise in the pre-roller blade days.

I never saw this, but it must be very popular since you can watch the whole movie for free on IMDB/HULU

Return to OZ as already mentioned makes use of L. Frank Baum's original 1908 description of roller skates:

"...and the Scarecrow grabbed a scooter made of an old apple box, removed the wheels and affixed them to his shoes to create roller-like skatoes..."

Starlight Express

The oddly-conceived musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber consisted of a roller skate track extending out into the audience. I actually saw this at the Wang Center back in the day and cannot remember anything about it other than "what the deuce?". This was before crack so presumably Weber used some other substance to generate his ideas.

(I thought the German version makes it even more bizarre)
Heaven's Gate

Admittedly I have not seen this whole movie, but it included a roller sequence

Tim will entertain us with tales of this movie disaster

Hook - the 1989 Peter Pan reimagining from our old pal Steve has skateboarding in it, which seems almost as incongruous with the original story as roller skates do to the Wizard of Oz.
Although I suppose in the 1980's a lot of kids were probably out on their skateboards when they got magically transported to Neverland.

Speaking of bad remakes - last year SciFi channel has a two-parter version of Peter Pan which was just hideous.
Although it did have Bob Hoskins who was also in Hook.

Oddly, there is an animated Oz movie coming out this year as well.

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Kylee Peña
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 13, 2013 at 8:39:40 pm

Hook was 1991 and also it was awesome, skateboarding and all!

I'd be more likely to see Oz the Great and Powerful if they used Stephen's poster.

I'd love to see a bunch of weird, cracked out public domain stories being produced. Even better: Game of Thrones style, all this stuff. I think I read they're planning a darker, adult Oz? Maybe I dreamed it.

twitter: @kyl33t

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Mike Cohen
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 14, 2013 at 1:03:07 am

Speaking of Heaven's Gate, here's a piece about box office bombs:

Kylee - I agree Hook was mostly classic Spielberg. My favorite parts were actually the scenes in London where Peter remembers Wendy and is shocked to find she is an old lady while he has stayed relatively young. That was a nice way to tie the original story with the present day. Spielberg has been compared to Peter Pan in that he's in his 60's yet still makes awesome movies for kids of all ages. (you see, I really do admire him!)


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Tim Wilson
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Mar 14, 2013 at 6:59:32 am

As far as bizarre adaptations of the Oz story go, do you remember Tin Man on the then-called Sci Fi Channel? A 3 ep miniseries with Neal McDonough as a lawman -- hence TIN man, get it? -- and Zooey Deschanel as a slightly ditzy (really? Zooey Deschanel as slightly ditzy?) waitress named DG -- like Dorothy Gale, get it? -- Alan Cumming as something like a live-action Jar Jar Binks with a zipper in his head, and lots of other things too strange to recount here. But see here. And of course, here:

You can kind of a get a sense that this was pretty ambitious -- a $20 million effort that looks like it could have cost even more. We actually ran a story about shooting it in Creative COW Magazine. It was among the first features shot with the ARRI D-20. The story was written by Thomas Burstyn, a terrific DP who does a lot more than science fiction, but was nominated for an Emmy for his work on The 4400.

I confess that I just NOW got a look at the web layout on this article from 2008 -- hey, I was busy doing the magazine!! -- and there are a TON of pictures missing. LOL Oops. You should download the PDF because the layout is dynamite. (I didn't do it, Ron did.) But you can also read the article online for a fascinating look at the previous "generation" of digital cinema. Quite mindblowing. And indeed, said PDF also includes one of the first articles to discuss workflow with that shiny new red camera, plus other cool stuff.

Anyway, Tin Man isn't quite as trippy as Return To Oz, but more than makes up for it by being 3 times as along plus commercials. Although in other ways, actually quite a bit trippier. It was also really violent and dark.

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Stephen Smith
Re: Oz the Great and Powerful
on Jun 10, 2013 at 4:10:06 pm

Had a 12 hour flight and watched Oz the Great and Powerful . It wasn't really on my list of things to see, but did I mention it was a 12 hour long flight? I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was cool how they tied the Wizard of OZ together. The ending credits moved like they where being fast forwarded. The other movies I watched didn't do that. Did the film really move through the ending credits that fast? Or did they do that since I was on an airplane. A bonus thumbs up goes to Noise Canceling headphones, something every traveler should have.

Stephen Smith - Follow me on Behance

Utah Video Productions

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