Having been subjected to a bombardment of advertisements for “Oz the Great and Powerful” on Spotify, I was expecting a production that was nothing short of epic. If you remake a classic and widely beloved film, you had better be sure your version is worth the makeover.
Unfortunately, “Oz” was not.
This spiritless creation myth traces how the Wizard of Oz actually came to be the little white-haired man pulling levers behind the emerald curtain in the original film. James Franco plays the slight-of-hand magician himself, whose womanizing lands him in all kinds of trouble, both in the sepia-toned Kansas circus and in the post-tornado, high-def fantasy land of “Oz.”
When an exceedingly dull Mila Kunis (in a distractingly massive umbrella of a hat) takes Franco to be the prophesied savior of Oz, a classic battle between the good blonde witch and the evil brunette one begins.
Unsurprisingly, it all hangs on whether Franco can overcome his self-centered, money-grubbing ways to become the hero Oz needs. I bet you are stumped as to how that one pans out.
The uninspired storyline was not even “Oz’s” greatest flaw. What I found most problematic was that the film was entirely miscast. Although I maintain that Franco was robbed of the Oscar nomination for his performance in “Pineapple Express,” he was perceptibly out of place in “Oz." His performance was an inept mishmash of unsuccessful Jack Sparrow imitation and dislikable, yet annoyingly earnest, hero.
Kunis was an even bigger flop, not only thanks to her absurd pirate get-up but also for being a consistently boring drag on an otherwise lively backdrop. I struggle to think of any young actress who could be less convincing in the role of an evil witch bent on destroying the lives of those happy (and still creepy) munchkins.
The only actors even reasonably well matched to their parts were Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, though only because they looked the part—their acting was less than stellar.
Most jarring of all were the voices of Mila Kunis and Zach Braff and their animated renderings. I do not claim to know what the voice of a comedic flying monkey in a bellhop suit should be, but having seen “Oz,” I am certain that it is not Zach Braff’s. Not to mention that throughout the second half of the movie, all I could hear was “That ’70s Show’s” Jackie wishing death and destruction on all the land.
Even the relatively action-filled storyline should have been at least 30 minutes shorter, a measure that could easily have been achieved by cutting out the many protracted scenes of excessively sincere and yet incredibly clichéd pep talks and inspirational speeches.
Aside from a few witty quips, like one about yellow brick potholes, the dialogue was unexciting and unoriginal.
Even Williams, one of the more talented actors in the ensemble, did not have much to work with given a script full of yawn-worthy “just believe” nonsense. The plot, though not without a handful of exciting sequences, was hardly any more remarkable.
In terms of its overall tenor, the movie swung rapidly from humorously offbeat—even slapstick—to the (allegedly) genuine and somber, leaving me with the uncomfortable feeling of being unsure whether to laugh or not throughout the movie.
The only thing really going for “Oz” was its visual splendor, which was admittedly quite stunning. This movie was definitely intended to be seen in 3D, and the result was a vividly fantastical landscape full of well-animated, colorful creatures and creations.
Ultimately, the makers of Oz succeeded in creating a highly appealing and impressive aesthetic production—and this coming from someone who unconditionally despises Tim Burton-style, over-the-top, fantasy films, the likes of which were an undeniable influence on “Oz.”
But without the visual dazzle, which would surely be lost in two dimensions or on a small screen, the film really has very little to boast.
When you name your film “Oz The Great and Powerful,” you set the bar pretty high. I left the theater feeling that “Oz” hardly even reached for that bar.