Monday, September 16, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

This review contains spoilers for the film, as most of which I'd like to discuss is the complete story and character arcs.

There was a lot of negativity surrounding Oz the Great and Powerful even before it was released.  A lot of people looked at the trailers and thought it reminded them too much of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, a film a lot of people didn't care for but I personally enjoyed.  That film did have some problems though, and it seems like some of those problems also carried over into this film.

Is Oz the Great and Powerful meant to be a prequel to the The Wizard of Oz (film) or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book)?  The opening credits give credit to L. Frank Baum, but honestly the only inspiration I noticed was the little china girl and some of the Oz residents.  I suppose you could also say the fact that Oz is a real place and not a dream also makes this in book continuity, but considering they did the trick with people he knew in Kansas having counterparts in Oz you could almost suggest he's in a coma from which he can't wake up.  The dilemma, of course, is that people are far more familiar with the film than they are with the book these days, and so they had to conform to that as much as possible.  I was half expecting one of the wicked witches to end up wearing ruby slippers by the end.  And that's the other side of the coin: they don't have the rights to the original film, so they can't make it a true prequel to that source.

But honestly, my biggest problem with the film was not about the ambiguity of where it was supposed to be set as much as it was that we're dealing with a jerk for a protagonist. For all of his talk of wanting to be a great man, he's nothing more than a liar, a cheat, and a womanizer.  As he's being thrown about inside the twister, he promises to change if he's let out of this - and then promptly goes back to his nasty ways the moment he runs into Theodora and continues to act that way for much of the movie.  Glinda tells us she sees good in him, and even suggests that it's a lack of believing in himself that is holding him back.  But it's more the fact that he willfully chooses to be a jack ass that's holding him back.


There's no denying that his methods to defeat the witches and run them out of Oz is clever, but just because he's turned his means of deception toward the bad guys gals doesn't really make him a hero.  He's still a trickster, or to borrow the phrase from the original book, a humbug.

The movie's misguided attempts at redeeming him are perhaps nowhere more obvious than when it comes to the china girl.  In the beginning while still in Kansas, after witnessing him make a lady float in the air and thinking his magic is real, a wheelchair bound girl in the audience shouts "make me walk!"  Oscar is clearly affected by the little girl, as well as her parents who offer him the meager amount of money they have if he could do something for her.  But because he doesn't want people demanding their money back for the show, he stammers about how he could do it but can't right now until his assistant finally drops the curtain so he can make a get away.  Once in Oz, he runs into the china girl (voiced by the same young actress) with her legs shattered and he uses some glue he has in his bag to put her back together.

That's not redemption, or otherwise making up for his earlier mistake.  Fixing broken china is infinitely easier than healing a person.  True redemption for that moment would only lie in admitting he can't do the things he claims, but he only ever admits such things in private to Finley and eventually Glinda.

Basically, the fact that this movie is a prequel prevents it from having any true satisfying journey for its protagonist, because he has to still be the jerk who hides behind the curtain and forces a little girl to take care of his mistakes for him.  It mostly works as a set up piece, the one glaring annoyance for me being his kiss with Glinda toward the end.

Though I suppose we can fill in the blanks that somewhere along the way she got sick of his b.s. and kicked him to the curb, and that her sending Dorothy away and not explaining that the ruby slippers could get her home immediately was because it was all a plot to get Oz on that balloon and out of the land of Oz for good.  Yes, I think I like that idea.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it's Theodora's story here that is far more interesting to me.  Having never seen/read Wicked, I have no idea how close or far this is from that version of her origins.  But I think Mila Kunis did a great job of showing a young woman who desired to be good, but got led astray by her broken heart and evil sister. 

I also think it was very wise of them to have the final climactic battle of the film be between Glinda and Evanora.  I saw some complaints online about how this film is all about a man coming to Oz and the women being helpless around him, and that's just not true.  While Theodora may be temporarily swayed by him, both Glinda and Evanora see him for what he is immediately, and they are the two powerhouses in Oz.

While there are some good acting performances and beautiful set design, I left the film disappointed over all.  Back in March, Disney approved a sequel for the film, and honestly, I have no earthly idea what they would do.  I would greatly prefer to see some of the other Oz books adapted into film instead.

5 comments:

  1. There's just something about James Franco that makes Oz look like a huge scumbag no matter what he's doing. I get he's supposed to be a sly conman but every line is delivered in this sort of greasy tone, even when he's being selfless and heroic. Especially when he's being selfless and heroic...

    It was really jarring trying to figure out if this was a prequel to the movie or an adaptation of the books. One moment I'm enjoying the parallels I can draw between the movies and all of a sudden there's a lion lunging at the guy, and I think they're trying to imply it's the same lion Dorothy will eventually encounter and Oz's explosion is what made him cowardly.

    I don't want to read too much into the ending but I'm pretty sure they're trying to imply that Oz banged Glinda. Hey kids, remember Glinda, the beacon of light and happiness? The good witch that set Dorothy at ease when her world got all technicolor? She totally used to sleep with that bumbling oaf at the end, that old guy behind the curtain who was outsmarted by a Cairn Terrier. Yeah, him.

    I don't know why but that was all I took away from this one.

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    1. Yeah, Franco really does work a lot better as a sleazeball or stoner than as a true hero. I think ages ago they were thinking about having RDJ for this role, and someone like him definitely would have been able to come off more sympathetic and heroic at times.

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    2. +JMJ+

      I haven't seen this, but I read Angie's review and Scotty's comment, and now wonder whether they cast James Franco because this isn't a prequel as much as the first movie in a big reboot. Because based on what you're saying, I don't think there was any attempt to link the Oz and Glinda of this movie to the ones in the 1930s movie.

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    3. You know, you're probably right. I would guess that they would probably go for a full trilogy with this younger version of Oz before beginning a new trilogy that would begin with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and then two more movies for Dorothy. Of course, that would mean they would all have to be successful, and given the lukewarm reception this one got, I doubt we'll ever get that far.

      But it does make me wonder... could the general public accept a movie Dorothy that wears silver shoes rather than ruby slippers?

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    4. I got that "reboot" vibe too, and I'd be down for that. There's a whole universe going untapped! They're looking for the next Potter/Twilight in the wrong places, let me tell you.

      I think using silver shoes over ruby slippers would help solidify this (potential) series as its own thing instead of being a simple prequel to a movie, and if people know they're present in the books that's something that would probably boost book sales too. Get a bunch of stylized covers and special editions going ... damn, I think we just fixed the economy, you guys!

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