Those who haven’t seen Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz will still be able to enjoy Sam Raimi’s prequel Oz The Great and Powerful, an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book series. Those who are still dazzled by The Wizard of Oz will especially appreciate the new film even more because of its conscious use of iconic imagery and homages. The film marks Sam Raimi’s first foray into family friendly territory and it’s a slightly above average attempt by abandoning his usual trademarks so he can appease and offer winks to fans of the original. It’s certainly a trick to engage audiences with a prequel to a film that most audiences know the outcome to. Raimi manages to dazzle a new generation by making a film that’s visually appealing with a little bit of heart.
Oz The Great and Powerful delightfully pays direct homage to The Wizard of Oz by opening in black & white, in the Academy 1.33:1 aspect ratio, then expanding into 2.40:1 aspect ratio and vivid color once an amateur magician and con-man named Oz (short for Oscar) arrives to the Land of Oz in a storm damaged hot air balloon. James Franco portrays the titular Oz, a carnival magician who dreams of greatness. He’s good looking, charming, and a bit buffoonish in his demeanor. After he’s caught with another man’s wife, Oz flees from the carnival grounds in Kansas by hopping on a hot air balloon during a violent tornado storm. He’s sucked into the storm and arrives in the Land of Oz, a colorfully majestic world.
There he meets a strikingly beautiful witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who mistakes Oz for a great wizard from another land. She brings him to the Emerald City to become their king. He tries to explain to her that he isn’t the wizard that she’s looking for, but after being smitten by Theodora, he decides to play along. Theodora’s sister, a witch by the name of Evanora (Rachel Wiesz), declares to Oz that he must destroy the wicked witch in order to become the king and acquire golden treasure. He selfishly agrees to kill the wicked witch, but after Oz meets a third witch named Glenda (Michelle Williams), he soon comes to realize that little is as what it seems. On his quest to kill the wicked witch, a talking monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) and a porcelain china doll named China Girl (voiced by Joey King) accompany Oz. It’s on this quest that he learns self-worth as he’s forced to give up his con-man eccentrics to realize his destiny.
At first, I was a little weary on the casting of James Franco. When the film was first announced back in 2010, Robert Downey Jr. was reportedly attached to the role. Even though that would’ve been an inspired choice, Franco surprisingly brings his own to the role of Oz. His performance is at times charming and buffoonish, which are essential elements of the character. Even though Franco gives a fine performance, the character himself wasn’t very dynamic in terms of characterization. The one performance that failed to connect was Mila Kunis’ portrayal of the Wicked Witch. She is fine as Theodora, but her performance is a bit too cartoonish after her transformation. Rachel Wiesz, who is usually fantastic in all of the films she appears in, is rather wooden in this film. I don’t necessarily blame the performance; I blame the script for not giving her much to work with.
Just like in The Wizard of Oz, some actors play duo roles in the film. Michelle Williams is both Annie, one of Oz’s ex-girlfriends, and Glinda. She effortlessly brings a sense of charm to the role. In the black & white portion of the film, Zach Braff portrays Oz’s assistant Frank and later portrays Oz’s dedicated monkey Finley. Finley is a flying monkey but doesn’t pose a threat. Instead, Finley has a sense of humor and is by Oz’s side to serve. Braff undoubtedly gives Finley his personality and his heart. Joey King, who has appeared in Crazy Stupid Love and White House Down, portrays both a young wheelchair-bound girl who wishes for Oz to heal her in one of the earlier scenes and China Girl. Like Braff, Joey King gives China Girl her innocence and braveness. It’s a charming voice performance that matches perfectly with the CGI character. It doesn’t go without mentioning that, since this is a Sam Raimi film, longtime Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi have minor roles in the film that are so brief. To be honest, a Sam Raimi film without a Bruce Campbell cameo just wouldn’t feel complete.
Video (1080p High-Definition Transfer): Disney’s 1080p high-definition transfer is absolutely tremendous. The film pays a direct homage to Wizard Of Oz by opening in black and white with a boxed 1.33:1 aspect ratio and then subtly expanding outward to 2.40:1 aspect ratio once the audience and Oscar are immersed into the stunningly colorful world. The vibrant colors pop on screen and never once feel flushed. The textures are natural and crisp. The CGI effects are detailed in such an immaculate way that the imagery often feels three-dimensional even though the presentation is only in the conventional 2D format.
Audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Track): The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Track enhances each sequence and provides an experience that perfectly accompanies the outstanding visual style of the film. Audible elements work in unity, especially during the tornado sequence. Dialogue is comprehensible and never feels drained or overpowered by Danny Elfman’s magical score. The score is nicely toned during the softer moments in the film but makes a voluminous impact when enhanced during a particular scene.
The special features provided on the Blu-ray of Oz The Great and Powerful are presented in high-definition:
- The Magic Of Oz The Great And Powerful Second Screen Experience
- Walt Disney And The Road To Oz
- My Journey In Oz By James Franco
- China Girl And The Suspension Of Disbelief
- Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz
- Mila’s Metamorphosis
- Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions
There isn’t a substantial amount of special features but the features that are offered on the disc aren’t lacking in interesting content. To enjoy The Magic of Oz The Great And Powerful Second Screen Experience feature, you must own an iPad and a Wi-Fi enabled Blu-ray player to download an app and sync the devices so you can enjoy exclusive high-definition content. I haven’t synced the devices so I have absolutely no idea what extra content is offered. The “My Journey In Oz By James Franco” feature is by far the most interesting. Franco takes viewers behind-the-scenes and interviews Sam Raimi and other cast members. This approach by Franco worked, as the answers he received seemed more relaxed, genuine, and informative.
In the “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz” feature, production designer Robert Stromberg gives viewers a glimpse of some of the film’s sets that helped bring the fresh vision of Oz to life. In “Mila’s Metamorphosis”, Mila Kunis is transformed into the Wicked Witch with the use of make-up and prosthetics. The process is described and viewers can take a look of alternative make-up designs that were abandoned during production. The blooper reel that’s offered seems oddly out of place and is quite dull. Overall, the special features are short but offer some insight.
Oz The Great And Powerful is an ambitious effort, there’s no question about that. Disney, who doesn’t even own the rights to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, had to jump many legal hurdles and got away with a lot in order to bring this story to the screen. Raimi’s recreation of the Land of Oz recalls iconic images and a sense of cinematic wonder from the iconic film such as the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road. It’s nowhere near engaging as The Wizard of Oz nor will it ever achieve the same iconic status, but it’s this sense of nostalgia that may make fans appreciate Oz The Great and Powerful for what it is, a slightly above average family friendly spectacle that sets things up for the next.
The Blu-ray was released on June 11th, 2013