The Wizard of Oz
is on numerous lists compiling the best films of all time. For a long time, it was the quintessential adaptation of L. Frank Baum's fantastical tale. Judy Garland's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" is a standalone hit. But the widespread success of Wicked
over several mediums showed audiences wanted more; they were open to spinoffs of the classic – and they wanted to know more about the witches. Oz: The Great and Powerful
is a prequel to the original story, hoping to give audiences exactly what they desire.
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician. He has a captivating stage presence, charming audiences across the United States. Years of honing his skills has made him a master of illusion and diversion – but it's not enough. Oz dreams of greatness. When swept up into a tornado, he begs whoever may be listening to spare his life so he can realize his ambitions. Granting his wish, Oz is whisked to the Land of Oz where prophecy states he will save the people from the evil witch and become king.
Though Oz is the story's protagonist, it is as much about his arrival in Oz as it is about the history of the witches. It shows the caring but clever nature of Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams), as well as Evanora's (Rachel Weisz) hand in turning her kind-hearted though ill-tempered sister Theodora (Mila Kunis) into The Wicked Witch of the West. Viewers are also given the opportunity to meet the non-munchkin inhabitants of Oz, including the Tinkers, Farmers and an orphaned but spirited china girl (Joey King).
Director Sam Raimi makes the most of the 3D, creating a stunning introduction to the enchanted world of Oz. Snowflakes and butterflies seem close enough to touch, and lovely gardens bloom as if equipped with motion detectors. Even in black and white, Oz's peril is felt as wooden stakes fly out of the screen just missing the man. Raimi's history with monster movies also influences his direction of the Wicked Witch. He obviously encourages Kunis not to be afraid to be over-the-top in her green garb. And the final "monster" is sure to remind fans of a Deadite.
Like Kunis, most of the actors deliver over-the-top performances. Kunis’ cackle is loud and harsh matching any decent, boisterous Halloween laugh. Williams speaks in a soothing, soft but higher pitched tone, radiating the gentleness associated with the good witch. Franco is perfectly casted as the small-time magician because like his character, the actor always seems to be “on.” Though Zach Braff’s Finley the monkey appears entirely genuine at all times.
Rather than spend too much time focusing on already established details like the flying monkeys, this film shows audiences what they’ve yet to see.
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco
, Michelle Williams
and Rachel Weisz