Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs
Written by: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsey-Abaire and (book The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz) L. Frank Baum.
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 8th March 2013
It takes a very brave man to tackle a prequel to one of the most famous and best loved family films of all time, The Wizard of Oz but Disney (who were desperate to make the original until MGM stepped on their shoes) have hired in Sam Raimi to handle the mission. That’s right, the man who gave us The Evil Dead and the Spider-Man trilogy has directed this. To be honest, Disney got it right.
Oscar Diggs is a con-man and magician working on a travelling show and making near to nothing. His only fun is seducing women to be his assistant. His tricks are cheap and he’s now upset the Strongman. So jumping into a hot air balloon to escape, Oscar finds himself propelled into a twister and coming out the other side into a colourful and magical world called Oz. Meeting up with a witch, Theodora, he is taken to the Emerald City where, on the way, he saves flying monkey, Finley, from a lion. Once in the city, Theodora tells Oscar that there was a prophecy of a might wizard falling from the sky.
Introduced to Theodora’s sister, Evanora, he is offered the kingdom and the vast wealth that the city has if he heads into the dark forest and kills the Wicked Witch. With only Finley as company, the pair head off, saving a China Doll along the way. However, things aren’t what they seem as they soon discover that their mission is a fake and Oscar must become a real wizard to protect the locals from the real villains.
I went in with some trepidations. Could this prequel be any good or would it end up like Disney’s previous attempt at the Oz stories, Return To Oz, which was far too dark and sinister? After 15 minutes, I relaxed. Raimi has total respect, not only for the material he has or the original source books but the 1939 classic, as we go from Academy framed (that a box to those who don’t know) black and white sequence, just like the Judy Garland musical, to glorious (and I mean, glorious) technicolour and widescreen when Oscar reaches his destination.
What makes this film such a winner is the production values. It is a feast for the eyes. Inventive, bright and continuously exciting to watch, Raimi and his team have captured the feel of the original film without actually copying it. Every inch of frame is beautifully crafted, either with huge sets that brings back happy memories of a Hollywood long gone, or the terrific CGI creations, including the very scary (might be too scary for the very young) flying baboons.
Performance wise, everyone plays their parts well. James Franco is fine as the Professor but at times you feel he is trying too hard to be likeable and fun, even though his character is a bit slimey and although he should have got his comeuppance for the way he behaves with the ladies, he doesn’t. His best scenes, however, are with the wonderful China Girl. If she doesn’t touch your heart, you obviously don’t have a heart to touch.
The three leading ladies are also fine. Mila Kunis is surprisingly sweet, while Rachel Weisz plays it like pantomime. It’s also nice to see independent queen Michelle Williams tackling something lightweight as Glenda, fitting the role perfectly.
This isn’t a film about performances. This is a film about spectacle and it ticks the boxes nicely. If there is a criticism, then it’s the running time. At 2 hours and 10 it does feel it, especially in the middle section, when the pace seems to drop but once the battle lines are drawn, the film lifts.
There is plenty here to delight and impress and as far as being entertaining, it certainly is that. Even, and I don’t believe I’m saying this, the 3D is good (although Sam Raimi has said he doesn’t like the process, he felt it worked for this). As a big, bold, brassy blockbuster, it’s perfect.