Sam Raimi (Spiderman, The Evil Dead) has created an honourable tribute to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz”, and has stamped it with his own idellible mark of film-making. He is successful in putting us in the same Land of Oz we know and love, without smothering us in nostalgia. Raimi’s talents are clear, as are his wishes to link the audience to the Judy Garland classic, without it being overbearing.
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a con-man, a travelling magician who makes very little money and treats people with very little respect. He is not great and powerful. He is a womanizer, a scoundrel who takes to wooing the local ladies with the same trick, leaving them hopeful for his return when his circus leaves town.
After angering a couple of locals, Oz gets whipped around in a hot air balloon through a great Kansas tornado in 1905, and he makes a wish. He doesn’t want to die. He wants another chance. He wants to be a better person.
He steps out of the balloon and into the gorgeous waters of Oz, with big, pretty flowers popping up around him and butterflies fluttering about to the fantastic soundtrack by Danny Elfman, who captures the wonders of the land perfectly.
We meet Theodora (Mila Kunis), a wide-eyed witch who’s taken by the man she believes fulfills her land’s prophecy. She believes Oscar is “The Wizard” and those doe-eyes are too much for the con-man’s small heart to take. He gives her the ol’ song and dance routine, and lets her believe he is the man for the job, and the man for her as well. Theodora and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) explain to Oz that if he can kill the Wicked Witch, he will be the new King of Oz and owner of an expansive wealth the Emerald City beholds.
The casting of the irreverent James Franco is almost too perfect as the mischievous rogue, but therein lies the big problem. Oz is as an unscrupulous scam-artist, a greedy, good-for-little trickster thrust into a world in desperate need for the leader he isn’t. There’s not much anybody can do to make that character likeable. As hard as he tries, the mostly-charming Franco is just not convincing enough to bring any magic to the character.
For what it’s worth, Mila Kunis is also an incredible let-down. Her innate charm is completely non-existent, as is the emotional connection to the audience while Theodora transitions from naive and innocent to broken-hearted and wicked.
There are plenty nods to “The Wizard of Oz”, such as the yellow brick road, the poppy fields, the costume and set design, and the quirky animated characters that call Oz home. It was all very pleasing to reminisce, but there is so much of Sam Raimi in this movie that it will no doubt stand alone in the history of film-making.
The supporting cast provides most of the sentimentality of the film. Finley the winged-monkey (Zach Braff) provides plenty of comedy relief and China Girl (Joey King) is powerful as the emotional core of the movie. Michelle Williams is also wonderful as Glinda the Good Witch and plays the role very close to her heart.
Raimi did a very good job in honouring the original, without his ingenuity and creativity being overbearing. He must have endured a lot of flack for helming a flick nobody asked for, especially being a prequel to one of the most quintessential films to ever be created. And to his credit, he surpassed most of the expectations the film carried with it’s reputation.
Was it great and powerful? No. But it never had that expectation. It doesn’t need to be. It’s a great time for families and fans of the original, and for those interested in seeing just what tricks Sam Raimi still has up his sleeve.