Over 70 years since its theatrical release, The Wizard of Oz has become one of Hollywood’s most revered titles. It is not hard to see why, being filled with classic performances, iconic music and technical wizardry that still looks amazing even today. Many have tried to recapture the magic, setting adventures in and around the world of Oz but none have come close, sans maybe the funky and soulful Diana Ross/Michael Jackson led The Wiz.
While the track record of stellar Oz adaptations is quite low, if anyone knows how to capture magic on the big screen it is Disney. Enter the Disney produced, Sam Rami (Spider-Man) directed, and James Franco starring, Oz: The Great and Powerful. A prequel of sorts, Oz, chronicles how the legendary wizard ended up in the magic land with the yellow brick road. And somewhat surprisingly, it does it pretty well.
From the outset of the film, it is clear that Rami has reverence for the classic film. Oz: The Great and Powerful starts off in Kansas, sepia toned and framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Oz (Franco), the wizard, is something of a womanizing jerk and literally gets chased out of town in a balloon. That balloon takes him directly into a tornado and as Oz leaves Kansas, the film expands outward and color slowly seeps onto the screen.
Despite being handcuffed by legal issues that prevented the film from displaying some of the most iconic imagery of The Wizard of Oz, Rami’s vision for Oz is a visual tour-de-force, captivating at every turn. And it is fortunate that it is so stunning because the story is rather repetitive, rehashing the same themes over and over again. It is not that the story is disappointing, it is just overwhelmingly simplistic and without the amazing visuals the film would flounder a bit.
Franco’s Oz and co-star Mila Kunis’s Theodora, are the only two to actually develop their characters past paper-thin personas. Oz’s transformation from con-man to hero is well thought out and develops nicely, although the turn for the character comes rather abruptly. Theodora on the other hand is probably the most interesting of all the characters. Without spoiling things, let’s just say that she has a wonderful physical transformation that is amazing to watch. However that is it for character development.
When matched up against The Wizard of Oz, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a bit of a slouch but as an introduction to the world for newcomers, or a re-introduction for older fans, it works as a magical theater going experience. It is a great companion piece and in the grand scheme of things, that is the best we could have ever hoped for.