New ‘Oz’ doesn’t live up to original

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is certain to disappoint many audiences, but may intrigue others with some of the creative presence in the film. I suggest that moviegoers do their best to dismiss the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” when seeing “Oz the Great and Powerful.” If people go in expecting a complementary piece to the MGM masterpiece then they will be sorely disappointed. Walk into the theater willing to accept a spin on the classic “Wizard of Oz” tale with a youthful spin.

This youthful spin is provided by mainly James Franco as Oz, but also the three enchanting beauties who occupy Oz. The four performers — Franco, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda — light up the screen with both unbelievable magic and more practical real world illusions. The acting is youthful and focused on embracing a young audience. Unfortunately for Franco, the lovely ladies outshine the manly wizard.

Franco as Oz is not bad. He’s just goofy in a way that does not work well with the overall production. With his constant smile and wide, hazy eyes, he looks as if he’s just barely hanging on to reality. Franco’s part was at first in the hands of both Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. Downey would have been excellent in the role and Depp would have embraced the nutty nature of the character. A combination of the three actors would have been ideal casting for the role. Oz needed youth, but he also needed a grand performance style that only a veteran actor could have provided. The scraggily, messy Franco looks like he’s having a good bit of fun, but his performance is one note.

The three actresses knock their roles out of the park and provide “Oz the Great and Powerful” with all the power. Williams is simply glowing as Glinda and would be an inspiration for any young girl looking up at the screen. Weisz is peculiarly manipulative and cunning as Evanora and Kunis shows that she has some real potential as a star, but Sam Raimi, the director of the film, doesn’t push her performance far enough.

Unfortunately, the problems with this film aren’t present in the script or characterization, but rather in the “stunning” production design. When Bruce Campbell was on the Hasting College campus weeks ago he talked about big-budget filmmaking versus low-budget. His comments seemed to be negatively stemming from Hollywood’s vicious embrace of matter over mind. “Oz the Great and Powerful” has a severe problem, because it’s far too focused on the visual elements. Many critics will point to these CGI backgrounds and set pieces as what makes the film stand out, but I think it is polarizing. I didn’t expect to see painted backgrounds or rubber trees like the original film, but the CGI was distracting and the characters popped off the screen like stickers on a colorful background.

I wish that the filmmakers would use practical effects more than rely on CGI wonders. An excellent example of a similar style of filmmaking is present in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which utilized both practical effects and animation.

Overall the film is entertaining, but lacks the magic that should be present in Oz. Embrace some of the story elements and fun characters, but leave the rest behind, because after all, “there’s no place” like the original Oz.

Patrick White

Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.

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