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Film Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

by Dan Jordan

Age certification: PG

Written by:  Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire

Directed by:  Sam Raimi

Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Michele Williams, Rachel Weisz

Genre: Fantasy/Drama

Rating: **

The Wizard of Oz’s simple yet effecting story of internal triumph while reaching an external goal has been thoroughly adopted into our culture so much so it’s considered a classic. While Oz the Great and Powerful attempts to convey a similar level of hospitality and inoffensiveness as its’ precursor, it’s mostly dreary visuals only mask a sullen and duplicitous message.

We follow Oz (James Franco) in his attempt to go from small time magician to the all-knowing Man behind the Curtain. His balloon scooped up in a Kansas twister, the dodgy magic man lands in Oz and is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis) and tasked by her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) to kill the Wicked Witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams). Fuelled by the promise of power and gold, Oz sets about his whimsical assassination with the help of a servile talking monkey (Zach Braff) and an irritatingly hysterical china doll (Joey King). His task is jeopardised not only by the noticeably bland wildlife of Oz but also by the revelation Glinda may not be the wickedest witch in need of melting.

Since the original Wizard of Oz was the first live action film to be shot in full colour, Oz the Great and Powerful is immediately under-pressure to deliver a similarly fascinating world. Unfortunately, digitally discolouring the opening sequence to emphasise the colours of the CGI panorama of Oz on its introduction fall on jaded eyes, as, in a post Avatar world, this spectacle has become run of the mill. The attempt to play off reality by including mountains and rock formations to off-set the fantasy landscape is admirable, but the foregrounding of the CGI plant and animal life blank out these constructions and send the effects spiralling into the realms of teeth-grindingly frustrating self-congratulation.

This inclusion of reality to play fantasy off of is what defeats Oz the Great and Powerful on its own ground. While initially the Emerald City was a beacon of achievement, Oz the Great and Powerful spoils the image by engendering it with the war mentality that has somehow inserted itself into every fantasy film since Lord of the Rings. Looking past this as a compliance with genre, we see the Emerald City is invaded and ideologically appropriated to instil the sensibilities it has in The Wizard of Oz. Once this unsettling political sensibility is undertaken, the fantasy melts away and the desired soft, comforting wholesomeness shifts so far into cynical tastelessness that no amount of theatrics can make us see past the grimness that is this film’s ideological basis.

As disturbing as the film’s politics are, its’ visuals are passable enough to make for a somewhat enjoyable viewing. For this to happen though, it’s essential you pay no attention to the over-zealous man behind the CGI curtain.

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