Friday March 8, 2013 7:05 AM
This one should have been called Oz the Great Pimp, because the titular character (James Franco, asleep at the wheel) beds more hot women than the average Bond fare. He even sports a pimp hat and cane, weasels his way into innocent witches' pants (or gingham skirts) and dumps them summarily so they can use their rage to transform into the Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis), or an over-the-top actress auditioning for a female-oriented remake of the Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask.
All joking aside, Oz the Great and Powerful is a shamelessly cynical attempt at a quick cash grab that tries to hide itself as imaginative escapist entertainment. How ironic is it that a movie that tells the tale of a carnival magician who specializes in making himself look grander and more inventive than he actually is happens to look like a money-burning experiment concocted by a bunch of studio heads and focus groups, hiding under the illusion that this is an innocent and playful throwback to one of the most beloved fantasy films of all time.
Perhaps some members of the audience will be mesmerized by the supposed grand scope of Oz, presented with copious amounts of colorful CGI locations and characters invading the screen indiscriminately like a virus surrounding the live-action actors, perhaps in an attempt to cover up how uninspired their performances are. James Franco gets most of the blame here; he makes his gig hosting the Oscars look full of energy and gusto by comparison.
We all know the story of Dorothy in the Land of Oz, therefore the first problem with this prequel stems from pretty much the entire audience knowing how this story is going to end. There are many steps that need to be taken for Dorothy to find Oz precisely the way she did in the 1939 classic. Even if you lived under a rock or in the actual Land of Oz (Where I failed to see a single Cineplex) for the last hundred years and have no idea how this story will end, it's not really hard to predict where it's going.
Regardless of the failings of the bland prequel idea, the execution is strictly paint-by-numbers, CG-infested modern kiddie schlock, despite the overinflated budget (Almost 300 million, yikes!). Sam Raimi, who we all know can bring so much energy and creativity to mainstream blockbuster entertainment (See: Darkman and Spider-Man 1 and 2), looks as if he was very restricted in style and simply lets the special effects do all of the work with his flat camerawork.
There are a couple of scenes when his trademark zoom and tilt effects come into play but are very jarring when viewed in 3D, which probably explains why he couldn't use his usual style as freely. But why did this have to be in that damn 3D anyway? It only proves to be a distraction that takes you away from the already flimsy story. All it shows is that Raimi loves sticking stuff in our eyes for some reason.
There isn't any shortage of spears and monster plants gleefully invading your personal space like that guy at work you try so hard not to invite to any of your office parties. Raimi is like Maximus from Gladiator, desperately and constantly screaming at the audience, "Are you not entertained!!?"
Watching Oz reminded of how important individual performances are when it comes to selling a fantasy universe. As soon as Judy Garland stepped into the Land of Oz, we could feel the wonder and awe alongside her and that film only had at its disposal a sound stage and a bunch of little people in kooky makeup to create its world. A lot of people credit the change from black-and-white into color as the primary reason for the audience's amazement, but I think Judy Garland deserves most of the praise.
Flash forward to contemporary times when computers can generate any fantastical world as realistically as possible. Yet now the wonder is missing. Perhaps because our eyes can tell the actors are in front of green screens at all times, or perhaps it's because the sense of awe is stripped from the actors' faces.
I understand that Oz is supposed to be a cynical jerk at the beginning of the story. That provides his simple character arc. But wouldn't any human being, no matter how jaded, at least react a little bit surprised when they find themselves in a world full of living plants, fairies and talking flying monkeys? James Franco treats this magical land as if he stepped into a generic suburb of Kansas.
This is an empty-headed, painfully generic product that was plopped out by a movie studio factory machine. It picks up every element from Oz and sticks it into a new movie haphazardly without any wit, creativity or charm.