Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff and Joey King
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
In The Great and the Powerful the titular Oz (Played by James Franco) is a conman of a magician in a travelling circus. Whipped in a tornado while in a hot air balloon, Oz finds himself in the magical world of Oz. Upon his landing he finds that the people of Oz believe him to be fulfilling the prophecy that one day a wizard will fall from the sky and kill the wicked witch. Entranced by the treasures that reward such an effort, Oz sets out on a quest, which will change his life and the world of Oz, forever.
The star of this show is undoubtedly director Sam Raimi. Having a background in horror (Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell) Raimi lends this film an air of danger, horror and tangibility that it may have otherwise lacked. Through Raimi’s kinetic camera movements and creepy creatures, there are scenes and shots from this film, which seem ripped out of Drag Me To Hell, among others. However Raimi keeps the horror at a family friendly level, yet does not forget the importance of genuine peril and threat in children’s entertainment. As strange as this may sound, it was a joy to hear children audibly and visually terrified around me, during certain segments of this film.
However Raimi’s integration of horror is not the only commendable aspect of his work here. Through his dynamic direction, Raimi is able to lend an air of realism to this film despite the fact that this is a very much a green screen production. Comparable films such as the most recent Alice in Wonderland, completely lacked any sense that characters were actually interacting with a genuine world around them, however in Oz, Raimi is able to make you believe in the world and while you are subconsciously constantly aware that the environment is artificial, the computer generated imagery is artificial without looking artificial, if that makes sense. The film looks fake if you were to truly remove yourself from it, yet Raimi is able to bring you into the action enough that you are constantly keeping your doubts and disbelief at bay.
However not all the credit can go to Raimi for the visual wonder of this film. The special effects in this film are quite simply extraordinary and the attention to detail is staggering. Through simply staring into the background of certain shots and noticing minute details such as the reflection in the water, I was given a sense of wonderment in relation to visual effects that I have not felt for a long time. While its early year release may count against it, if this doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for visual effects, then it will have been one great year for that craft (Or further evidence of how CGI laden films are dominating the market)
In regards to the 3D, as somebody who is not at all a fan of it, Raimi delivers one of the better uses of the technology I have seen. However in regards to both the handling of the 3D and the visuals in general, I do wonder how well it will translate onto a two dimensional and smaller screen. While this film will look stunning on Blu-Ray, I fear that much of this film’s visual wonder and presentation will lose something in the translation. This is truly a spectacle film and one that you should ideally see on the biggest screen you can find.
Moving away from the visuals, Danny Elfman’s score is also superb and due to his frequent collaborations with Tim Burton, lead me to constantly think that visually and tonally, this was exactly what Burton’s Alice in Wonderland should have been. While technically and visually this film is a near faultless tour de force, there are flaws in two of the crucial behind the camera elements…the script and editing. This film’s pacing is very problematic, many character reactions and transformations feel incredibly rushed, yet concurrently the film is much longer than it should be. By the end of the film I was screaming for it to end and was very much ready for the credits. Additionally the handling of certain conflicts is rather convoluted and it does feel as if there were crucial scenes missing for certain characters.
In regards to the acting, James Franco continues to show what a charismatic and brilliant actor he is. With his lead role in this and supporting turn in Spring Breakers, he has been the actor of the beginning of 2013. As Oz he perfectly portrays the insecure arrogant showman, who denies goodness in pursuit of greatness. His character, his transformation and the theme regarding the nature of greatness that it develops, is one of the more joyful and satisfying aspects of the film. Franco carries this film and while some have argued he has been miscast in such a role, in my eyes he, along with Raimi, is the principal reason why this film works as well as it does, as simple family entertainment. Mila Kunis is rather shortchanged by the rushed nature of her characters transformation and delivers a good performance that could have been a great one. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams both play rather one-note characters and do so efficiently.
Overall it is the spectacle, Sam Raimi and James Franco that ensure that this simultaneously rushed yet baggy film succeeds. It has sweet themes regarding the importance of belief and nature of greatness that are subtly yet substantially developed, as well as a sense of tangibility and threat that provides an air of realism. With two lively showmen at its core who encapsulate a well judged spirit, Oz The Great and Powerful almost completely succeeds with what it is trying to be, with it fifteen minutes too long and short in certain areas to make the leap that its central character made from good to great. However, while watching this film, as a child in the row behind me leaned forward in excitement with his head resting on the head of the seat next to me, I was taken back to the purity of cinematic spectacle and realized how much I look forward to taking to the cinema, any kids I may have.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,