Oz the Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Pictures, PG)

ozthegreatandpowerful 75I don’t know that I needed a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, but I like this version of a reboot, as opposed to simply remaking a classic.

 

 

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A few months ago, the trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming monsters vs. robots epic, Pacific Rim, was released, and the internet exploded with enthusiasm. Then a few people came out and argued that those who scoffed at Transformers and Battleship would be poopooing Pacific Rim as well, were it not directed by Guillermo del Toro. This argument seemed to hold some water for about eight seconds, but then everyone remembered that there’s nothing stupid about getting excited for good directors. 

On the surface, Pacific Rim may look like another Battleship, but fans of del Toro’s work know that he can inject his own personality into anything he does, and his trademarks are already evident in the three-minute trailer. So when I saw the trailer for Oz the Great and Powerful, sold as “from the producers of Alice in Wonderland,” I didn’t think of it as a knockoff of that Tim Burton movie I still don’t want to see, but rather as a new film from the director of The Evil Dead.

Like Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi is a director who has a very distinct style. Fans of the Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman can see his signature all over the Spiderman movies. I trusted him to bring his own unique sensibilities to this story, and he did not disappoint. His presence is felt in every frame.

Like just about everyone, I saw The Wizard of Oz many, many times as a child, but it has probably been a good decade since last I watched it. This movie is a prequel of sorts, while also telling a very similar story. I don’t know that I needed a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, but I like this version of a reboot, as opposed to simply remaking a classic.

Like the original, Oz the Great and Powerful starts out in black and white before exploding into appropriately vivid color. It also transitions from a square 4:3 frame into wide scope, which is always a winner for me. I’m not sure why the opening scenes are also in 3D instead of making that exclusive to the world of Oz, but I guess they didn’t want to follow the lead of Tron: Legacy. The land of Oz is pretty stunning. I think Raimi and crew rely a bit too heavily on computer-generated effects, and some of them are less than stellar, but the fantastical nature of the imagery allows for a certain amount of artificiality.

Let’s talk about The Wizard of Oz. Everyone remembers it as a great family adventure, but it’s also pretty fucked up and scary. The odd mixture of tones makes Sam Raimi a perfect choice. He can do light adventure, and the movie is pretty funny throughout, but he also doesn’t skimp on the scares. Remember how freaky flying monkeys were when you were little? I think kids today will have similar reactions to this film. There are shots and, in one case, an entire scene lifted from Evil Dead 2, but what this movie actually feels like is Army of Darkness. Think about it: Army of Darkness is kind of like a slightly darker Wizard of Oz.

I don’t want to oversell this. I know most people love Army of Darkness, and I do as well, but it is my least favorite of the trilogy. I’ve always found it a bit uneven, and that’s true of Oz the Great and Powerful. There are scenes where the film seems to be meandering, and I have a huge problem with the performance of Mila Kunis, an actress I usually like. I can’t really get into my problems without giving away some legitimately surprising and intriguing plot developments, but let’s just say she shares most of her scenes with Rachel Weisz, who is a total badass in this movie and acts her off the screen. I don’t give star ratings, but if I did, this movie would lose an entire star because of Kunis and what she’s asked to do.

Oz the Great and Powerful is clearly not a classic, but it does a fine job of paying homage to a classic. I was reminded several times of recent prequels like Prometheus and The Thing, both of which are significantly less successful. The simple fact is that the movie is a lot of fun. It has a real heart and Raimi’s gleeful enthusiasm. It feels very genuine, which is rare in modern studio fare. It may not be remembered years from now, but its fun while it’s on, and I can’t imagine anyone hating it. | Sean Lass

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