There’s no place like home.
After his lacklustre 2009 horror Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi returns to the director’s chair with a rather foolhardy attempt at modernising a beloved classic. Sadly, the result is a film lacking in intelligence, courage and heart.
In complete contrast to the rest of the film, Oz the Great and Powerful begins in an entertaining manner, with an impressive, albeit borrowed, dynamic. Employing the same trick as Victor Fleming’s iconic original, the audience are transported back to the early days of cinema with purposefully dated performances, colourless aesthetic and even a retro Academy aspect ratio. Unfortunately, much like any film that casts an abundance of cursory nods to a cinematic classic it encounters an immediate obstacle of establishing high expectations that it is never able to meet.
In the same way that the significant monochrome-to-Technicolor transition stunned audiences in the late thirties, this stylistic technique remains a perfect platform to showcase the technologies of contemporary cinema, even if it is overbearing and inconsequential 3D. The biggest problem is that while they set out to evoke the 1939 classic while remaining in tune with the demands of a modern day audience, the screenwriters and actors remain locked in the past and where their wafer thin plotting and cheesy performances were initially welcomed as cute, if a little on-the-nose, references to the original they soon become grating and plague the entire project.
Preceding The Wizard of Oz by twenty years, Oz the Great and Powerful follows a hapless magician Oscar Diggs whose travelling circus is currently performing in Kansas. From the moment it begins it is no secret that Oscar, or Oz, will eventually become the infamous Wizard, but the narrative itself focuses on his journey to get there. Sadly, what follows is a lifeless tale of incongruous set pieces and charmless characters.
Bewilderingly James Franco, in what may be the worst casting decision of the decade, stars in the lead role. He approaches his character with all the presence, charm and charisma of a deflated balloon and every moment he’s on screen is a chore. The mistakes however, go much deeper than miscasting. Diggs is introduced as a dishonourable, unreliable and completely insular protagonist and there’s absolutely no way the audience will care for him over the course of the two hours.
Thankfully the three supporting actresses – Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams – and the vibrancy of the CGI inject much needed charm and visual beauty into this otherwise bleak experience.
With Oz, Raimi has envisioned a world not too dissimilar to Cameron’s Pandora; a world of wondrous imagination, bright colours and 3D protrusions. Unfortunately, like Avatar and Oscar Digg’s stage performances not one of these visual deceptions and gimmicks are able to hide the unforgivable failings of this film.