'Oz the Great and Powerful' cast smart, but effects flat
In the end, it all comes down to the flying monkeys. It always does.
Disney apparently wasn't pleased with early cuts of the long-awaited, mega-budget “Wizard of Oz” prequel they were making, and decided to expand the all-digital flying monkey character (voiced by Zach Braff).
That's the main problem with “Oz the Great and Powerful.” It's not that monkey sidekick Finley reaches Jar Jar Binks-levels of annoyance. It's that you can almost see the shadowy contours of a great “Wizard of Oz”-worthy movie here, obscured by a fog of overwrought special effects, overcooked plotting and extraneous dialogue.
All the essential moving parts ought to be in place. Director Sam Raimi has gone from low-budget cult horror (“Evil Dead”) to blockbuster superhero action (the “Spider-Man” trilogy) while keeping at least some of his edge. Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are perfectly cast as the witches.
At first, the mercurial, smirking James Franco seems miscast as the lead. But the character isn't supposed to be entirely lovable — he's a sleazy, carnival sideshow con man and parlor-trick magician.
Franco is Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a traveling circus magician in 1905 Kansas, who yearns for greatness. He's also selfish, vain and relishes his skill in tricking credulous farmers and their pretty daughters. He's not a good man, and he knows it.
The early scenes are among the film's most effective, photographed in deep-contrast black and white.
When Oscar's amorous advances on the circus strongman's girl aren't appreciated, he flees in the circus's hot-air balloon — and into a cyclone, which whisks him off to the magical, full-color land of Oz.
Stranded in a strange new land, he meets a beautiful witch, Theodora (Kunis), who immediately assumes that he's the wizard that prophesy has foretold. She takes him to Emerald City, where all he has to do is claim his throne, the kingdom, a room full of gold, and his choice of queen, Theodora or her sister-witch Evanora.
There's one catch — he has to kill the all-powerful Wicked Witch and her army of soldiers and winged monkeys.
The special effects of “Oz,” digital and otherwise, are oddly inert, despite the presence of effects/makeup ace Greg Nicotero (originally from Pittsburgh). One exception is the delicate, childlike China Girl, a computer-generated sidekick picked up along the yellow brick road.
To make “Oz” work well, everything has to look amazing. Instead, it looks good in places, like cutting-room debris from “Avatar” in others, and a candy-coated Katy Perry video in some.
There are a few of Raimi's signature scares scattered here and there, but little of the dark humor and visual wit that he's known for.
Plot holes abound. One involves a key character staying totally oblivious to hundreds of giant, evil, flying monkeys hanging around the Emerald City.
“Oz” doesn't have to be plausible, but its world ought to, at least, make sense on its own terms.
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ is bloody good mockumentary fun
- Review: Smith, Robbie throw wet blanket into ‘Focus’
- Kickstarter funds would go toward great-niece’s film about Warhol
- Review: ‘Lazarus’ almost raises a whole film genre from the dead
- DVD reviews: ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘Horrible Bosses 2’
- Beechview special-effects artist brings life (and death) to movies
- Museum offers Enigma encryption