Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz The Something and More Something

The Wizard of Oz endures because it manages to work on about a dozen different levels at once; that became pretty clear during The Film Experience's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" take on it last week. I can look at the movie and love it for the scares, while somebody else can look at it and love it for the singing; people love it because it's over the top and campy and people love it because it's sentimental and sweet. It's both a straightforward story about a girl on a fraught odyssey home as well as an incredibly rich allegory about growing up. It manages to be pretty much everything at once, and do so with such conniving ease that you can't help but be in awe of it all these years later. 

The biggest hurdle that Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful had set up in front of it as I see it  was fundamental, and probably impossible to overcome - its main character and his story. Dorothy endures because of how simple and universal her arc is - she took the people she loves for granted, and she needs to earn their forgiveness, and forgive herself. The journey she takes - a circular one, as Nat pointed out - is the film's structure itself. Oscar's journey, on the other hand, is much more complicated, and replaces Dorothy's universal child-like naivete with a much more cynical point of view. There's a grain of truth beneath it that we can relate to - figuring out what you're good at and what you want from life - but you never really get the sense that Oz's journey is integral to his development. 

So much of the richness of Dorothy's experience in Oz comes from the fact that we're pretty sure she's dreaming everything, so these are projections of her subconscious, working things out for her - but here that doesn't seem to be the case. Oscar isn't dreaming up the land of Oz... or if he is it's a dream the film's unconcerned about him ever waking up from which gives it a morbid comatose air. People from Kansas are transformed in Oz (Glinda is Oscar's lost love, and his assistant's turned into a talking monkey) but like so much here it doesn't feel purposeful - it gets lost amongst the cacophony of back-story and plot, plot, plot. 

Something's always happening, but it doesn't feel earned. How am I supposed to feel the weight of Mila Kunis' character's tragedy when she's only shown herself to be an unstable fickle weirdo since the first moment we met her? She falls for Oscar seemingly within seconds of meeting him, and nearly immediately proposes marriage? Poor Mila is saddled with a tidal wave of inconsistencies that she's got no way to navigate, and she's got all the wrong essence for what the second half of the film asks of her. I love Mila but she's terrible casting from the ground up for this part.

The other witches fair better because they have less character to play - Michelle Williams makes a lovely Glinda, believably wise and kind and ably girlish but able to summon backbone when required. While I didn't quite buy she was in love with the Wizard at the end, I did buy she'd make out with him for a kick. Meanwhile Rachel Weisz is tearing the place down, being everything the flick needs and more - MVP by far. She takes a character flat as a tinker's saw and wrings eerie music out of it. Even the costumes seem to appreciate her the most - she wears them, they don't wear her. 

The film actually gets better as it goes along; I think the last half an hour (that might be a bit generous but I'll give it to them) is fairly terrific. But there's too much meandering in the middle, and as I worried James Franco just doesn't have the sheer will to hold it all together. He's better than I worried he'd be - unsurprisingly he captures the Wizard's endearing goofiness with ease, which ekes out a couple of well-deserved laughs. But there is so much happening around the character - you need somebody that holds the center. But James keeps slouching it off. 

Just imagine what Ewan McGregor could have done with this part, ya know? He wouldn't have told the Munchkins to stop dancing, for one... I can't believe I'm the one saying this, of all the people in the world, but I found that moment, where Franco yells at the Munchkins to stop singing and dancing, as representative of a flaw with the film itself - all the fields of flowers made out of pixelated glass in the world are just never going to have as much life and vivacity as character and particularity will, you know? Sam Raimi knows this, and there were moments where his camera shook off the stifling blanket of panoramic CG to dance - those plant-monsters in the haunted forest! But not enough. Let the damned Munchkins sing and dance, Sam!


s. said...

Great review! I didn't much like Franco but I can't say McGregor would be much better - it would just be him, smiling like a clueless boy in Big Fish. Shame Robert Downey Jr. didn't take the part - he has the right charisma and even when he breaks hearts you forgive him.

Jason Adams said...

Robert Downey Jr can suck an egg! ;) (I hate him.)

MovieMoJoe said...

I thought maybe Jamed Marsden might fair better

MovieMoJoe said...

James perhaps :)

Anonymous said...

Well my opinion is (keep in mind I haven't seen the film) is that yes the film seems charming and magical but that's only because we have all the familiar images from the original Oz stories for ex: yellow brick road, Emrald City, tiny munchkin houses , spooky forest etc. I am not really interested either in hearing the story of the wizard how he came to be, to me what fascinates me more when I watch the promos for this film is the backstory of the witches, that seem interesting how the witch became a "wicked" one, but then again this wouldn't be Oz The Great And Powerful would it , it would be the broadway play Wicked, but I agree with the latter I think James franco is too young to be the wizard, I think like a Johnny Depp or a Robert Downey Jr. Or Ewan McGregor, James Framco is too much of a pretty boy!. Well I have a question for you @JA are the ruby slippers in this film? cause that would've been an added bonus if Disney got lent the ruby slippers from whoever owns The Wizard Of Oz! -Louisfalcony on twitter(although currently suspended :-/ )

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that this is a Disney film an has no music , I mean honestly they should've at least put music in it since the original version had amazing music and it gave Judy Garland her signature sing Over The Rainbow! And memorable songs Were off to see the wizard!. -louisfalcony on twitter!