OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: James Franco, Michelle
Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff
Director: Sam Raimi
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: June 11, 2013
“I don't want to be a good man...I want to be a great one.”
I don't think I'm spoiling anything for anyone by mentioning that the Wizard of Oz was, in fact, neither great nor powerful. He remains one of literary history's most affable charlatans...a good man, but a bad wizard.
Oz The Great and Powerful is kind of a prequel to the story and movie we all know and love...about how a sideshow magician named Oz (Franco) made it from Kansas to the magical land that bore his name, and how he became recognized as the wizard who would save the land from the evil of a pair of witches.
Oz the man actually has some character development here...he starts off as self-centered and friendless, thinking he can use the fact of his cyclonic arrival and a few parlor tricks to maintain the illusion that he is who the people of Oz have been waiting for. But he is always reminded that he has no real magic, including a sad scene early on where a lame young girl begs him to heal her.
Once in Oz, he meets up with Theodora (Kunis), who begins to fill him in on the happenings, and introduces him to her older sister Evanora (Weisz). They tell him that the evil threatening the land comes from Glinda (Williams), but of course, we know better. Theodora and Evanora are destined to become the infamous wicked witches of the West and East.
To bring peace, Oz must first correctly identify the evil, then vanquish it. He has the help of Glinda, who believes in the man even while knowing he is not the great wizard that was foretold. But with the help of the people of Oz, the magician might find he has a trick or two up his sleeve...in fact, he might even find the hero within himself.
I enjoyed this take on one of my childhood favorite series of books. In fact, fans of the books will note that this film goes further into them than the original classic film...characters like the China girl (one of the most amazing special effects in recent memory), the Quadlings and the Tinkers are all here. Plus, of course, there are nods to the older movie, showing how Oz, with a few illusions, can actually become the wizard the people have been waiting for.
There are some intense scenes here and there...the witches' flying monkeys are not the furry pests of old, but rather ferocious and frightening creatures. And Theodora's transformation into what we all knew she was meant to be is quite potent...and even carries some emotional weight, as she succumbs to the evil her sister unleashes because of Oz's rejection of her.
The end result is a satisfying story that should please old and young fans of L. Frank Baum's creations alike, and certainly won't step on any toes or interfere with the memories of our own childhoods.
This high definition presentation definitely ranks amongst the best I've ever seen. Every frame is filled with glorious color and detail, and packed corner to corner with wonder. It's breathtakingly beautiful; Sam Raimi and crew realized a magical world to its fullest potential, and turned a good movie into one of the best reasons yet to own a Blu-ray player.
The 7.1 DTS HD track is dynamic and clear, with Danny Elfman's music providing the perfect accompaniment. I don't know if it was a deliberate choice or not, but the early scenes in Kansas (which are black and white, of course), sound kind of thin...maybe it was for effect, but it was definitely noticeable. The disc even includes a special 2 channel mix in case you're listening to the movie only through your TV.
The extras include a blooper reel, James Franco's personal video diary, looks at the special effects behind the China girl, Danny Elfman's score, the production design, and Mila Kunis' transformation. There is also a short documentary about how Walt Disney had planned an Oz project for years, but never saw it in his lifetime. Rounding out is a digital copy disc, and Disney's “Second Screen”, which allows extra content on your tablet or PC while watching the movie.
Oz the Great and Powerful is an entertaining return to a land we all know and love, and marks one of the year's most exquisitely beautiful Blu-ray releases to boot.