Oz the Great and Powerful is a lost opportunity. It is a film so uninspired it is a wonder anyone had the ambition to complete it. Sam Raimi has made a joyless film and that truly is the heartbreaking part. The original Wizard of Oz has delighted audiences since 1939 and manages to do so without CGI. It has a wonder to it that continues to inspire the imagination all these years later. Oz the Great and Powerful, sadly, does not contain any of the wonders or enchantment.
James Franco stars as Oz who is a magician/con man before he is magically transported to the not so merry land of Oz via a tornado. The initial pre-Oz scenes are shot in short box black and white and are indicative of the problems of the film in general. Everyone knows that the picture and color will change as he enters Oz and any reminders of the earlier and superior film are to this movie’s detriment. The black and white scenes serve very little purpose other than filler, for the fact that Oz is a con man takes up about three seconds of the time. The only other reason for the scenes may be that it introduces actors that will appear again, because of course, the original film employed that tactic and we wouldn’t want to stray too far from that formula. Again, parallels are being drawn to show that Sam Raimi has in fact seen the Wizard of Oz.
The cast is incredibly talented and all of their efforts are wasted. James Franco is miscast and doesn’t seem to quite understand what kind of movie he’s in. It was reported that Robert Downey Jr. was originally cast in the role and it is not hard to imagine him. The role suits his style much more than Franco’s. Zach Braff plays Oz’s assistant in both human form, and later, as the voice of Tinsley, a monkey who owes Oz a life debt. A trio of witches are played by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams. Only Zach Braff manages to escape the clutches of the script with any dignity. He brings the only genuine laughs to the affair. Rachel Weisz chews through all of the scenery she can find and the movie does the impossible of making Mila Kunis unattractive. The only thing I can say about Michelle Williams is that she didn’t embarrass herself. She was fine, but after such standout performances in the past it is clear that she is phoning this one in.
Sam Raimi has designed Oz to be wondrous to behold. The only problem is that the CGI backgrounds of every scene don’t seem to exist in the same universe as the actors. No one interacts with the environment and much of the film feels like watching a video game. Green screen has never been as noticeable. It is jarring and consistently pulls the viewer out of the movie. I saw this in 2D so I’m not sure if the 3D would have helped but somehow I doubt it. It never feels or looks real and the characters don’t appear to be in any environment at all.
The plot is straightforward and mimics the original whenever possible. There is no imagination, ambition, or desire present in nearly any aspect of this film. Sam Raimi has created a paint by numbers prequel that is shockingly boring in its presentation. Oz the Great and Powerful looks, feels, and is acted like a studio cash grab trying to latch onto a built in audience who fondly remembers the original. That audience will be sorely disappointed.