Over the Easter break I disappeared to the North for some well-deserved relaxing time with the Bearded One. While I was there I did the obligatory uni work, but also took the chance to catch up on my reading for fun. One of the books that has been on my Nook for some time is sci-fi classic Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (what a name!). It was awesome! I had no idea what to expect from it and was completely lost from start to finish. On returning home, I thought I would check out the recent movie. Big mistake.
*** WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Waiting a year for a film you know you’re going to love is never easy. Watching that film and being massively disappointed by it is even more so.
I have been a fan of Peter Jackson since the first Lord of the Rings film over ten years ago. Since then I have headed to the cinema, bought the DVDs and enjoyed the extended edition of everything Tolkien he has produced. Yet I left the cinema after seeing the latest Hobbit instalment feeling nothing but dismayed.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS
Sam Raimi’s vision of Oz is opulent and magnificent, like Fleming’s original Oz on speed. The colours are dramatic and the land is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately, the over acting and tacky cgi lets it down.
Oz the Great and Powerful follows the wizard Oz (played by James Franco), or Oscar Diggs as he was known in our world, as he travels to Oz and attempts to save the land from the evil witches Theodora and Evanora (sisters if you hadn’t guessed). With the help of the good witch Glinda and a host of Ozian helpers, Oz saves the land while transforming himself into the wizard they proclaimed him to be.
The film has some touching salutes to the 1939 movie we all know and love. Beginning in black and white it has an old world feel until Franco’s arrival into Oz, where the colour bleeds into the picture until you reach for your sunglasses. Sadly, the extended opening begins to grate due to the tiny picture in the centre of your screen (we spent ten minutes adjusting the screen settings on our tv before realising it was intentional).
The scenery is, as I have already mentioned, absolutely magnificent. I can see myself being overwhelmed in the cinema. However, watching on a relatively small screen at home it already looked dated as Franco flew majestically over what was obviously a green screen. He and his balloon basket were the only realistic thing flying over the land that looked less real than Garland’s Oz from seventy years ago.
Mila Kunis as Theodora, the good witch turned bad, gives a very emotional and real performance from her first moment of meeting the great wizard. She is tender and vulnerable, nervously admitting she has never danced with a boy before. Her early scenes with Franco are both beautiful and sad thanks to his callous treatment of her. Unfortunately, once Kunis becomes the green hag we are familiar with she becomes almost cartoonish with her screeching and evil cackle. I feel a slightly softer tone would have done better than the ear splitting shriek she chose to communicate with.
Franco’s Oz is a complex character that takes quite an emotional journey through the film. He begins as the overbearing, self-centred magician at a travelling show and ends a sentimental and lovely wizard ruling the land. His relationship with Zach Braff’s Finley, the flying monkey, is particularly lovely and the development of their friendship gives you hope that he can become a better man. Regrettably some of his scenes can be wildly overacted, enough to shake you from your enjoyment of an otherwise well-acted character.
On a positive note, Danny Elfman’s orchestrations are, as always, sublime. In particular his montage music during the preparations for the final battle stir your blood and beautifully work with the screen. His music is magical and almost makes up for the shoddy computer imaging on the screen.
Overall this film was not what I was expecting. A fan of the world of Oz (I have enjoyed both movies and books), I was disappointed with the quality of what should have been an incredible cinematic experience. With an all-star cast of actors I admire, plus a world created by one of the greatest fantasy writers there ever was, I was hoping to sit back and enjoy. Sadly, too many elements of the film tried too hard and ultimately made me regret my time in front of the screen.
Ox the Great and Powerful is available to buy now on blu-ray and DVD