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Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity-and even a bit of wizardry-Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well. Written by
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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The opening credits are seen in a 1930s nickelodeon, with certain credits having their own qualities:
I went into this film prepared to be disappointed. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland felt a bit lifeless to me (except for Johnny Depp's Hatter) and I couldn't help but compare this movie to that one in my head. So, I went and saw this one with reservations.
I'm a huge Oz fan. I love the original books. I love the movie. I love Wicked (book and musical), Tin Man, Return to Oz, The Wiz (the musical more than the movie), and even Geoff Ryman's oh-so-depressing novel Was. There's no such thing as an "official" version of the story anymore, so I don't mind a little pastiche here and there. After all, Baum's Witch was short, wore an eye patch and a very tall hat, and brandished an umbrella, but Margaret Hamilton effectively erased that version in favor of the glorious green-skinned villain we all know and love. So talk of "the real version of the story" is pretty much moot at this point.
This movie didn't disappoint me at all. Yes, it had some issues, but I didn't really mind overall. I left the theater with a big goofy grin and I'll probably go see it again. It was an enjoyable romp through a gorgeous landscape with enough insider references to merit multiple viewings. It rarely takes itself too seriously, and never tries to step on the toes of any other version of the story. There are references to events in the books which, before now, have never made it into any other adaptations (such as the China Girl), as well as many familiar visual cues from the 1939 film (the guard's outfits, the spiral where one fork of the Yellow Brick Road begins, and even a shot of the Kansas horizon with a scraggly grasping tree seem comfortably familiar). There was even a visual cue that, while it may not have been taken from this source, certainly suggested a character from Tin Man.
I felt that Mila Kunis came across as a bit flat. Her character arc seems too forced and we don't really get to see much progression. I didn't mind James Franco, to be completely honest. He was appropriately sleazy when he needed to be and charming in a goofy way when needed. I think he could have invested his character with a bit more depth, but it never really turned me off his character at all. Superficiality is a huge part of his character, and I thought it worked, overall. The side characters were a delight, with some of the best comedic lines coming from Oz's traveling companions. And, of course, Rachel Weisz steals the show with a delicious performance, embodying a great number of classic villains from Snow White's Evil Queen to Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine.
Visually, the film is a delight. Sam Raimi turns Oz into its own wonderland without it ever seeming predictable or tired. One criticism I had with Burton's Alice was that it didn't really give the audience a chance to luxuriate in the bizarre landscapes of Underland all that much. It had great character design, but the landscape seemed a bit low- key. Raimi, on the other hand, gives audiences exactly what they're looking for. Gems, flowers, waterfalls, mountains, rock formations, sunsets, etc. that are completely breathtaking. Not only that, but the CGI is crisp and clean.
Danny Elfman's score was...OK. One thing I've noticed with him lately is that almost everything he does now sounds less and less unique. We've got the requisite haunting waltz and the spectacular pounding swirling opening credits theme, but other than that, I found almost everything to be a bit forgettable, which is sad because Elfman is one of my favorite film composers. The music isn't bad, but it just doesn't add as much as it could have.
But overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It's a delightful romp through a colorful wilderness that asks nothing more from its audience than a chance to have fun. This isn't a thoughtful, complex Oscar-winner nor is it a gritty realistic fantasy a la Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. It's a kaleidoscopic portrait that seems at once familiar and new. Children will love it (though very young children may be scared by a few of the antagonistic creatures) adults will enjoy picking out all the loving homages to the books and the 1939 film. It's a fun way to spend an evening, and you won't be disappointed, just don't go in expecting deep, complex high fantasy. If you liked Burton's Alice, you will definitely enjoy this film (and you'll probably enjoy it more, if I may so myself).
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