You may or may not know it, but Sam Raimi is a director with a very specific style and thanks to the success of Spider-Man he’s usually allowed to let that style run wild. It’s an awesomely lavish style that feels both new in it’s ability to capture scenes and old in it’s passion for slapstick and gags. It’s a style that can work wonders (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) or fall flat (Spider-Man 3).
With the Wizard of Oz Raimi is given a massive budget, a fantastical world and a bevy of gorgeous actors. What would any nerd, which Raimi most assuredly is, do with that? Make it everything they always wanted. Unfortunately sometimes everything you want doesn’t gel into a whole you need.
Oz the Great and Poweful
Director: Sam Raimi
Release Date: March 8, 2013
The problem with Oz the Great and Powerful is that it’s probably not what you’re expecting and thanks to that its issues get elevated. This is legitimately a kid’s movie with site gags, over-the-top characters and an approach that emphasizes fun over story. That’s not to say the entire film is “kiddy,” but the tone of the film is probably not what you’re expecting. It’s more akin to the original Wizard of Oz than today’s modern fantasy epics, and that can be off putting if you aren’t ready for it. Even if you are ready for it you’re going to find the film weird, for lack of a better term.
It’s just a strange combination of visual style, plotting, camp and cheesy performances that’s hard to either dislike or like. I found myself torn between Raimi’s direction feeling horribly out of place or perfectly original. It is definitely a Raimi movie with big, swooping single shots, first person camera, and a penchant for camp and cheese and somehow that’s both enjoyable awesome and yet awkward.
It’s hard to tell if the cast is hamming it up perfectly or simply not being directed well. James Franco, who plays Oz, is either wonderfully charming or horribly overacting while Mila Kunis wavers between nailing it and completely missing it. Two consistently enjoyable performances come from Rachel Weisz prolifically evil witch and Michelle Williams unbearably good one. It’s almost infuriating as a critic to come out of a movie without being able to decide where you fall on a film, but I find myself still switching back and forth between liking it and thinking it missed its points.
There are definitely issues with the movie that are easy to point out. The plot is paper thin and is stretched out far longer than it needs to be. Picking up before The Wizard of Oz, the movie tells the story of the wizard himself. We see him sucked into Oz after a hurricane where he meets three witches who are sisters: Glinda (Williams), Theodora (Kunis) and Evanora (Weisz). Oz is tricked by Evanora to go kill Glinda and he takes along his friendly flying monkey (Zach Braff) and a china girl (Joey King). Of course he figures out that Glinda is good and eventually hatches a plan to win back the Emerald City and realize that he is more than just a charlatan.
The story takes a long time to get going. In an homage to the original the movie opens in black and white, letter box style and it stays there for a while. It’s actually a great chunk of the movie, but it stretches and once Oz (short of Oscar, by the way) arrives in Oz the movies already been running so long that it feels like they’re establishing a second plot entirely. The film really starts to drag until the movies prolific ending, but once again it’s hard to get bored thanks to the gorgeous world and Raimi’s directing.
Coming back to his directing, it’s not all wonderful. While he sets up some elaborate shots that are simply breathtaking in 3D his use of the technology is amateurish for the most part. At times I felt like I was on a ride at Disneyland instead of seeing a legitimate movie. It’s the kind of things (throwing things at the camera, first person “rides”) one would expect out of a 3D 5 years ago before the likes of Hugo showed us that the technology can legitimately be used before. It’s again a contradiction because at other times he weaves the camera expertly in stunning single shots that work perfectly for the tech. It’s the same for some of the digital stuff as well. Most of it looks gorgeous, especially the China Girl, but at times it’s horrendously green screened and awkward.
I’ve basically spent this review trying to decide whether I liked Oz the Great and Powerful or not. I love Sam Raimi and his joy of slapstick and childlike nature and that comes out clearly in this film. On the other hand things never really mesh together as well as they should and the camp comes of forced instead of fun. It’s a movie that just doesn’t quite click, but is still fun to watch. In such a case, I’ve determined, a tie breaker must be created. That tie breaker is whether or not a movie features Bruce Campbell. The answer to that questions is that it does, and thus I will say I liked Oz the Great and Powerful.