Release Date: March 8, 2013
Rating: PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobb, Tony Cox
Since its release in 1939, The Wizard of Oz has become so beloved that no one dared to make a sequel until Walter Murch's Return to Oz in 1985, based on Oz author L. Frank Baum's "Ozma of Oz" and "The Land of Oz." Many reviewers deemed the film to be comparatively unimaginative, but even more than that, too scary for the younger crowd (didn't those critics remember the flying monkeys and wicked witch in director Victor Fleming's classic film?).
Now comes the PG-rated Oz the Great and Powerful from director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man). There's no Dorothy or Toto in this prequel to Wizard that reveals the titular character's back story. It's a colorful, visually arresting film that has its share of inventive moments but could have used a bit more story development to justify its two-hour-ten-minute running time.
In a throwback to the original Wizard, Raimi's Oz opens in glorious black-and-white, in standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Oscar Diggs (James Franco, 127 Hours) is a traveling magician in 1905 Kansas, a self-described conman who wows audiences with rigged tricks. Helped by his faithful assistant (Zach Braff, Liberal Arts), he looks down on those who pay to see his show, but during moments of self-reflection, he acknowledges he could be a better man.
"I'm many things, but a good man is not one of them," Oscar says. But goodness isn't really what Oscar aspires to: He wants to be great.
After Oscar's shenanigans earn the wrath of other traveling troupe members, he hitches a ride on a hot-air balloon and winds up flying straight into a tornado. Faced with imminent death, the conman quickly sobers up. Looking heavenward, he cries, "I don't want to die! Get me out of here and I can do great things! I promise I can change!"
Delivered from what seemed to be his certain death, Oscar lands in the Land of Oz. As in The Wizard of Oz, the change in locale comes with a transition from black-and-white to eye-popping, hyper-realistic color, along with a shift to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. If that isn't enough to engage viewers' attention, Oscar's trip down a waterfall should do the trick. It's a special-effects driven diversion that offers nothing more than momentary thrills, but to the film's credit, the sequence delivers in spades the roller-coaster thrills it aims to provide.
Mistaken for a prophesied wizard, Oscar is redubbed "Oz" and promised he can inherit the kingdom's vast riches... but only if he defeats the Wicked Witch. He sets off for the Emerald City with a few companions: a flying monkey named Finley (voiced by Braff); Theodora (Mila Kunis, Black Swan), a witch who warns Oscar about her evil sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones); and a china doll (voiced by Joey King, Ramona and Beezus). Oscar rescued the doll after her village was attacked by the Wicked Witch's minions (flying baboons here, not the flying monkeys of the original).
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Christian Hamaker, Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer