Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Rating: C+

Dir: Sam Raimi
Star: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michele Williams, Zach Braff

I’m perpetually amazed by how far Raimi has come, from begging anyone for cash to make The Evil Dead, to being given $200 million to make a prequel to what’s likely close to the most-watched movie of all-time. The result here is not unpleasant, and certainly looks lovely. But Franco doesn’t make for a very good hero – you can see why they originally wanted to go with Robert Downey Jr. – and at 130 minutes, it’s definitely teetering on the edge of bloated. It treads an interesting line between imitating the classic film and going its own route, though much of the latter was forced by Warner Bros’s insistence that Disney could not overuse elements from their film, only the original books which are now public domain.

Hence, like Wizard. it starts off in b&w before becoming color in Oz, but the Wicked Witch of the West (Kunis, eventually) is a different shade of green. And there’s no Dorothy. The focus here is Oscar Diggs (Franco), a cynical womanizer and sideshow magician, who ends up going through a tornado to find himself in Oz. His arrival there appears to fulfill a prophecy, but to attain the riches and fame, he has to defeat the evil threatening the land – something he may not be too willing to do. As noted, it looks very pretty, with a palette of colors that’s hyper-realistic, and Raimi (making his first venture into 3D) manages to occupy a solid middle-ground between restraint and imagination.

I enjoyed the interplay between the witches, who are shown to be sisters here; Williams as the Good Witch is particularly effective, but I also liked Kunis’s bat-shit crazy scenery chewing at the end, which is just what the movied needed. Franco, though? Meh. He starts off as slimy and never quite escapes that level of unlikeability, despite some later heroic actions and a talking monkey sidekick (Braff). It’s pretty clear Raimi is reining in almost entirely, any desire he had for darker moments, and this is entirely PG-rated; we were also disappointed by the tiny cameo given to Bruce Campbell, compared to how high his name is in the credits. It’s acceptable entertainment, the money is up on the screen and it’s completely safe and non-challenging. In other words, almost exactly what was expected: no more and no less.