The Man Behind the Curtain
Oz: The Great and Powerful
This is a movie about a very conflicted man.On one hand, he's a charlatan driven by his base nature — he's deceitful, greedy, and lascivious, always looking for a way to turn every situation to his own advantage, everyone else be damned. On the other hand, he may have deeply buried core that occasionally breaks through to the surface, suggesting an level of decency and a surprising thoughfulness that draws you to him.
But enough about James Franco.
Predictable joke aside, that is really the internal structure of this movie, which explores how Oscar Zoroaster Diggs, a failed carnival magician from Kansas, is magically transformed into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Quite naturally this involves a tornado, a quest to overthrow an evil witch, and a chance to make amends with the analogues of people who he's failed in the real world. Is it predictable? You bet. Entertaining? Sure. Well-acted? Well...
Franco is actually pretty good as the erstwhile Wizard. He's got the right combination of unctuous sleaze and heartfelt sentiment, and always finds a way to ground his character even when the script requires his character to do a handful of abrupt turbabnouts. Zach Braff (as a flying monkey) and Joey King (as a girl made out of porcelain) do fine jobs as his comedic second bananas. And Rachel Weisz is charmingly catty as the Wicked Witch of the East.
But the other witches? Oy. Michelle Williams is as sweet as she can possibly be as Glinda the Good Witch, but she and Franco have little to no chemistry. And while you can understand how Mila Kunis's reserved performance is supposed to suggest how sheltered and awkward the erstwhile Wicked Witch of the West is, it's so reserved that she seems downright wooden. It doesn't help that her trademark cackle seems like it's ADRed by someone else.
But boy, is this a pretty movie. Yes, at times everything seems so gloriously fake that it feels like you're watching Journey 2: The Mysterious Island but Sam Raimi cultivates that unreality to give the film the elaborate storybook feel of the original Wizard of Oz. And at some level, shouldn't the land of Oz always feel just a bit unreal?
What's really impressive though, is the 3D. This is probably the finest 3D movie ever made. The opening credits — structured as a diorama of infinite depth that draws you ever deeper into the picture frame — set the tone, and it only gets better from there. The first sign of that you've arrived in Oz is a simple effect of snow, drifting gently outside of the picture frame and over into the blackness of the letterboxing. Subtle, but breathtakingly beautiful. And the world of Oz seems rich and deep and beautiful, with a true background instead of a recessed middle ground.
Really, this is a movie that you've got to see in the theater, in 3D. If you can't bring yourself to pay full price, you owe it to yourself to go see a matinee at least.
This Will Blow Your Mind
And if you have seen this movie, consider this. The whole time, under those fabulous evening gowns and jewelry, Rachel Weisz is wearing a pair of striped kneesocks and some silver shoes. Changes everything, doesn't it?