Saturday, February 21, 2015
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
(March 2013, U.S.)
It was just last night that my nine year-old son asked me if I was planning to write about Disney's OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL because he remembered that I liked it when we watched it together. His timing couldn't have been more perfect because I had completely forgotten about this title and was about to get started on the films in my collection under the letter 'P'. So thank you, Sam, for compensating for your dad's apparent early stages of senility.
To discuss this film, however, we first have to go back in time to when I was a kid and reflect on my own experiences with its predecessor, the classic film THE WIZARD OF OZ. As a child of the 1970s and early 1980s in a time before the affordability of the video player, to see THE WIZARD OF OZ was to keep an eye on the TV Guide and look for an ad like this...
...and then make sure you were in front of your TV set at the appropriate time watching CBS. This was an annual viewing tradition during a time when people had to actually watch the television set at the right time rather than set a DVR machine to make their lives more convenient. Then, about the time I turned twelve years-old, something happened which changed everything; I suddenly "woke up" and concluded that THE WIZARD OF OZ was just too damn childish for me! Add to the fact that I was also becoming aware that I had a general distaste for musicals, the likelihood of my devoting any further time to THE WIZARD OF OZ was becoming very, very remote. That in mind, any interest in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was just as remote a possibility. I didn't know what to expect from a film like this. Another musical?? Not for me! My wife couldn't even drag me to see the Broadway musical WICKED! But because being a father often means compromising what you're going to have to watch with the rest of your family, I found myself with OZ dvd in hand and sitting comfortably on the living room sofa. Well, my friends, sometimes the unexpected happens in life because here I am to say that I not only enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, but am prepared to write about it, part in thanks to my son's reminder (thanks again, Sam!).
If you remember THE WIZARD OF OZ well enough (and I do, despite not being willing to watch it anymore), you'll remember that when Oz is revealed to Dorothy and her gang of misfits as a huge fraud, he tells her that he, too, originally came from Kansas and was also swept up into a twister and ended up in the merry 'ol land of Oz. Disney now takes advantage of that little backstory and creates a worthy prequel of events that take place in Oz before Judy Garland and her little dog Toto ever show up. Mind you, this is not your grandmother's tale of Oz. There's no rainbow, no ruby slippers, and (thank goodness!) no singing! We begin in Kansas in the year 1905 when Oz (real name of Oscar Diggs and played by James Franco) is just a magician with a travelling circus, and despite the fact that this is a Disney film, director Sam Raimi breaks down Oz to exactly what he really is; a selfish, greedy, womanizing fraud! His womanizing is exactly what sets him on the run (or in the air) in a hot air balloon that gets him caught in that twister that also lands him in the land of Oz. Once there, he meets the two beautiful sister witches, Theodora and Evanora (played by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz respectively) who are under the impression that he's a great and powerful wizard sent to them under a foretold prophecy that he will save Oz from the wicked witch and her armies. The deception, though, is that Evanora is really the wicked witch who's only pretending to be on the good side of the people. Theodora, on the other hand, begins her tale on the side of good and righteousness, but is destined to turn to the side of evil wickedness when she suffers a broken heart after the womanizing Oz toys with her affections and misleads her along the path of love. By the way, I should point out that Sam Raimi also takes the opportunity to break down wicked witches to exactly what they really are, too - hot, young, large-breasted babes!
(I told you this wasn't your grandmother's tale of Oz!)
Wait a minute! Let me interrupt for a moment to just say that when watching this last night I couldn't help but notice some similarities between this film and STAR WARS: EPISODE III-REVENGE OF THE SITH. Think I'm wrong? Consider Evanora pretending to be the good one while, like Senator Palpatine, she secretly hides her evil identity and plots to destroy the people of her land. Consider Theodora, who starts out as a basically good person, but also has an undeniable temper issue, as well. Her broken heart and fears, like Anakin Skywalker, will take her down a path in which she will not only turn to the dark side, both emotionally and physically, but will embrace it with a hardened heart. Anyway, I had to get that minor George Lucas rip-off off my chest.
Now, it's expected, of course, that our selfish, self-satisfying protagonist will come to see the light by the end and do what's right in the name of the good people of Oz with a little help from Glinda the good witch (played by Michelle Williams who also plays an early role of Oz' love interest, Annie who's engaged to John Gale - future parents of Dorothy!). Still, we know that the simple magician from Kansas has no real powers that will defeat two wicked witches. This is where the film's story becomes very clever, in my opinion. As a magician and a fraud, Oz is a master of illusion and trickery. So it's these weapons, taken to a maximum efforts, that will create the illusions of great, unlimited power that will overwhelm and defeat the witches and drive them out of the land of Oz. Remember, though, that we expect the witches to only be driven away by the end of the film and not killed. We know that because it's not until THE WIZARD OF OZ that both of them are destroyed in their own fashion. Still, someone has yet to explain to me how the Wicked Witch of the West (Theodora), with all her magic powers, could be so easily defeated by a simple bucket of water ("I'm melting, melting, melting!"). Makes no sense to me.
And so, for a man who no longer has any love interest with THE WIZARD OF OZ, I have to say that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is an unexpected surprise filled with adventure and adult wit and laughs in all the right places by actors who have their own gifts of performance to offer a tale that's as old as Frank L. Baum's original stories. And like I said before, there's no singing! Well, actually, there is this one moment when the Munchkins of Oz attempt to break into song, but the film uses that rather as a moment of comic relief when Oz himself begs them to please shut up (thank goodness they take the hint because singing munchkins is so 1939!)! Still, I think Victor Flemming (director of THE WIZARD OF OZ) would have been very proud of this film.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Oz (to the monkey): "You're my new assistant. All you need to know are the three "ups". Show up, keep up, shut up!"