What does $325 million buy you these days? A groundbreaking prequel to The Wizard of Oz, or an unimaginative orgy of cartoonish special effects starring James Franco playing James Franco? Oz the Great and Powerful is more the latter than the former.
The movie begins in low ratio black and white, in Kansas of course, and introduces us to the sleazy, womanizing Oz. This segment serves as the most stylistically creative portion of the film even though it is still overly long and largely uninteresting. But maybe Sam Raimi purposefully made the opening dull and gray to contrast the Land of Oz!
As soon as James Franco arrives in the land conveniently named after him, the ratio expands and color explodes like a sick combination of Slurpees. The visual effects are cartoonish, presumably but not decidedly intentionally, and are incredibly unique. Uniquely unoriginal. The set designs, backdrops and creatures appear borrowed from other, greater works. The introduction to the Land of Oz seems duplicative of a scene in Avatar, only had James Cameron spent a lot more money and invested none of it in special effects.
In other words: where the fuck did the $325 million go?
The oddly impressive visual effects (the yellow brick road looks like floating cardboard in 3D) speak to a broader, more serious problem: Oz the Great and Powerful lacks a sense of awe and wonder. It feels routine at best, which is why three of the four major cast members - Franco, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz - simply resort to routine performances. The screenplay, from the inconsistent dialogue to simplistic storytelling, is bland. Only Michelle Williams manages to rise above the mess, though she too is limited by the material.
The introduction of the wicked witch of the west is confounding at best, idiotic at worst. The makeup work is even more tragic, looking eerily similar to Jim Carrey in The Mask. No offense to The Mask.
Oz the Great and Powerful has sparks of magic. There are some funny jokes and scenarios. The movie feels at home when the Munchkins finally debut with song and dance - unfortunately, James Franco playing James Franco cuts them off midstride. The film's climax is by far the best and most entertaining part of the movie, but by then it is too little, too late.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a massively expensive blunder. Thinking back, I cannot comprehend how $325 million, let alone $200 or even $100 million, was spent on a movie with so little magic, wit and enthusiasm for its material. It isn't as disastrously bad as Tim Burton's highly successful Alice in Wonderlad, but Oz does not having me wishing for another journey down the yellow brick road.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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