Oz The Great and Powerful
We all know the fairytale about The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy Gale gets transported by a tornado from Kansas to the magical land of Oz to go searching for the powerful wizard Oz who’s supposed to be able to get her back to her world. That classic from 1939 (starring Judy Garland in the lead) has not found its equal up to now, and besides a sequel in 1985 (Return to Oz) and the 1978 musical (The Wiz) with a.o. Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, we mostly remember animated movies based on the work of Frank L. Baum.
Sam Raimi, director of a.o. blockbusters like the first Spider-Man trilogy and the cult horror Evil Dead movies, saw potential in the idea and then mostly for making a prequel in which we got to see how Oz actually came to power. And so it was done! Some familiar (but not TOO expensive) stars were cast, a decent budget for special effects was scraped together, and that was it.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), by everyone known as Oz, is a smalltime illusionist who gets around by performing at carnivals while he does mirror himself to greatness like Edison and Harry Houdini. Awaiting for his “greatness” to finally be appreciated he mostly occupies himself with charming the feminin side of society, something that doesn’t always work out so well for him.
This is also the case when the strong man from a Kansas (where else?) carnival finds out Oz has been charming his wife and Oz sees himself having to flee quickly, and fly away in a balloon. However, what Oz didn’t expect is that suddenly a tornado appears, takes him along, and as such transports to the Land of Oz.
Once there, Oz quickly hooks up with Theodora (Mila Kunis), a self-proclaimed good witch who tells him about the legend that states a great and powerful wizard called Oz would appear and break the power of the evil witch and bring the land back to prosperity once and for ever. Oz sees his chance to gain everlasting fame, power and money and as such pretends to be none other than this predicted magician. However, his mission becomes a lot more difficult when he realises not everything is as was told to him and that the battle for power could become a lot harder than he had ever imagined…
Oz The Great and Powerful may not have succeeded in fulfilling the sky-high expectations from the critics, but it must be said that Sam Raimi didn’t do everything within his power to make it a beautiful fairytale. And that’s how you have to look at it, a magical fairytale that doesn’t require too much thinking.
The script has its flaws, there are quite a lot of coincidences that turn out alright, and quite a lot of things are brought forward too simplistically, but when you decide to not be bothered by those shortcomings you do get to see a fun story that is easy to immerse yourself in. Especially for kids Oz The Great and Powerful is a spectacle to watch, but also adults can easily enjoy it and this is mainly thanks to the way Raimi brings everything to the screen.
To emphasize the atmosphere from 1905, the movie starts out in black & white and this gets noticed even more as only 2/3rd of the screen is effectively used. This makes that in first instance you’re wondering whether something is wrong, and that this part of the movie lasts quite some time doesn’t help either, but once in the land of Oz you see the screen getting stretched to fill your TV and a color palette is brought forward that’s so beautiful and magnificent that you immediately and effectively believe you’re in the land of wonders. Phenomenal!
Than the real story starts of course, and we get to see how Oscar evolves from a man out for fame and fortune to the wizard who strives for good. As said it’s all a bit simplistic, but the way Raimi brings it all together on the screen makes that you have no problem what so ever to keep watching until the very ending, and the intentional hint of overacting from the cast also helps as you suddenly feel like you’re ten years old again, even if you’re an adult.
Oz The Great and Powerful may not have become the classic people were hoping for, but the fact that we managed to enjoy the movie so much and that it made us feel like kids again says enough. A fantastic piece of work by Sam Raimi who in the true spirit of Disney put together a fairytale worthy of that name.
As said the image at the start of black & white and only fills 2/3rd of your screen. However, the lack of color doesn’t make things look any less spectacular as the level of detail is immense and also the special effects (and then especially the tornado) are beautifully shown. Things really become awesome when we arrive in the land of Oz and undergo a transition from 2/3rd image and black&white towards fullscreen with a color palette that doesn’t know its equal. You literally get blown away and regularly we spotted ourselves watching with our jaws wide open, completely stunned by the quality. The detail isn’t just great, it’s fantastic, we can literally say that we’ve rarely seen something this beautiful on our television. Compression errors are completely absent, skin tones may hint towards orange just a bit too much but never too much to really annoy, and the black levels are perfect. If you want a Blu-ray to demonstrate the colors on your TV: just show the world of Oz!
Qua sound we’re equally impressed. The 7.1 DTS-HD track uses all channels at full potential and is filled with effects that come from all sides, but it does remain a nice united whole and dialogues never get overwhelmed by all the other action that constantly comes out of the speaker. Disney also sound-wise delivered a sublime piece of work with this release.
When it comes to extras we get a couple of short features that start with “Walt Disney and the Road to Oz” in which during 10 minutes we get to see how Walt Disney tried to get projects together based on the work of Frank L. Baum and how Oz the Great and Powerful is the culmination of one of Walts own dreams he never managed to realise.
After five minutes of bloopers we can watch “My Journey in Oz by James Franco” in which James Franco takes us behind the scenes during 21 minutes. As such quite interesting as we get less rehearsed comments than usually in this type of features.
“China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief” lasts 5 minutes and gives more information on how the China Girl was brought to life, while in “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz” production designer Robert Stromberg gives us a tour on the sets while Raimi and the cast praise him for the work he’s done. In “Mila’s Metamorphosis” we get to see how she gets transformed into the evil witch (8 minutes) and “Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions” has composer Danny Elfman talking about how he put together the music and how this evolves depending on how the scenes are going.