Oz The Great and Powerful *1/2 (out of five)
Sam Raimi made his first feature film, The Evil Dead, for $90,000. Now he has made Oz The Great and Powerful – a prequel to The Wizard of Oz – for 2,222 times that. The result is a thousand times less entertaining.
The formless script sees magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs swept up in a typhoon from Kansas to Oz, where he helps the Good Witch (Michelle Williams, the only one in the film doing anything interesting with her character) battle the two Bad Witches (Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz – sisters with two completely different accents!), picking up a flying monkey and a China Doll along the way, both of whom can talk and neither of whom is nearly as cute as they – and the movie – thinks they are.
Raimi starts the movie well, echoing the original film’s black-and-white to Technicolor switcheroo, and dropping Oz into Oz in a maelstrom of kid-in-a-candy-store 3D. Raimi’s not shot in 3D before and he throws things at you, old-school (ie 1950s style). Which is fine, because it’s fun.
Then everything sloooooooows the heck down. Somehow, a story that is meant to be full of wonder becomes very, very boring – perhaps the worst thing a film can be. Events move at a glacial pace; what story there is could literally have been told in forty-five minutes, but this bloated fiasco clocks in at well over two hours, and feels every minute of it, and then some. And then some. And then some.
James Franco, as Oz, really makes many missteps here, overplaying everything, goofing around, pulling faces, and generally acting like a special effect. It’s close to a terrible performance, and that’s a shame for someone who has previously been building towards stardom, rather than ruining the climb. It doesn’t help that his character is extremely uninteresting, unlikeable, and generally boring; it also doesn’t help that there is so much extraneous sound design of him yelping, screaming, trilling and shrieking that he comes off as a cartoon character – a bad one. (Robert Downey Jr. was originally sought for the role, and he would’ve been much better – but there’s a reason he turned it down, which I suspect was the script).
At one point a bunch of munchkins burst into song, and suddenly the film is full of life – and then the song abruptly stops, like the needle has been pulled off the record. It’s the perfect metaphor for the whole movie: at the beginning, there’s the brief taste of something good, but it’s just an illusion: there’s actually nothing there. Even kids will be bored senseless by this senseless, boring film.