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Billy Summers: 'Oz, the Great and Powerful' a bit of a letdown

Mar. 15, 2013 @ 12:09 PM

Director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man” movies, “Army of Darkness,” “The Quick & the Dead”) has taken on the tough task of making a companion piece to the classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

It is actually a prequel to the original, aptly titled, “Oz the Great & Powerful.” It’s a backstory as to how the wizard found himself behind the curtain in the 1939 classic.

I’ll tell you, right up front, if you choose to go see this movie, you MUST go to the 3-D version! Having watched both, I can tell you firsthand that the two-dimensional version is booooorrrrrrring.

The 3-D cut is no masterpiece, but it is a lot more fun. The scary parts are a whole lot scarier and the atmosphere is more Oz-like.

James Franco (“Pineapple Express,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “General Hospital”) stars as Oscar Diggs, sideshow magician/con artist looking for a bigger adventure. He finds it, in the “merry old land of Oz.”

Beautiful actress Michelle Williams (“Dawson’s Creek,” “My Week with Marilyn,” “Blue Valentine”) is Glinda, the Good Witch, maybe not as glistening as the 1939 version, but absolutely beautiful as the force of Good.

The Wicked Witches of East and West are played respectively by Rachel Weisz (“The Mummy” movies, “Fred Claus,” Definitely, Maybe”) as Evanora and Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show,” “The Book of Eli,” “Black Swan”) as Theodora.

Both are fun to watch, as Theodora is manipulated by her sister, who is the truly evil one. She is deliciously wicked and seems to be having a great time with her part.

The second tier is filled with wonderful character actors  like Bill Cobbs (“The Bodyguard,” “The Hudsucker Proxy,” The Color of Money”) as the Master Tinker and Tony Cox (“Me, Myself & Irene,” “Bad Santa”) as Knuck the Munchkin. Zach Braff (“Scrubs,” “The Last Kiss”) appears as Frank the assistant, as well as the voice of the flying monkey sidekick. They all have better roles than the stars.

The plot is a “before” picture of Dorothy’s journey and meshes pretty well into the original movie, explaining how each major player in the classic Warner Brothers film came to be.

As I said before, the 3-D version adds a ton of “zing” to the movie, but fails to totally gloss over some of the flaws with its CGI.

The background scenes, for instance, seem to have been designed and drawn by various assorted teams (I assume this is done quite often, but they need to be the same intrinsic style). Here, they are not.

The city of Oz is like the Art Deco cityscapes of the ‘30s and ‘40s, clean lines and neon tones, while the country scenes are right out of the Brothers Hildebrandt. You almost expect to see dragons appear from the cliffs.

Some of the close-ups are almost as though you are looking through a toy Fisher-Price viewmaster, and merely flipping the discs through the goggles at your own pace.

This brings up another major flaw. In some scenes (especially in the first half of the film, when Franco talks to non-human images, he is way off his mark, seeming to talk over the shoulder of the monkey sidekick or at the feet of the China Doll.

Maybe stoner movies are all he’s good at. At any rate, he is the star, and should not be the worst actor on the screen.

Granted, this all looks like a lot of fun, but Franco seems to think that his killer smile can overcome a lot of close-up mistakes. Not so...

I would recommend the 3-D version for anyone who wants to relive their childhood, especially the first time they watch that horrible tornado lift Auntie Em’s house into the sepia sky…

Just be prepared for a letdown. Some movie goers will think that the biggest gimmick of this movie is that the viewer will know how Dorothy felt when she saw that the Wizard behind the Curtain was a fraud.

A side note for movie buffs in Putnam County, you can now get a jump on all of your friends when it comes to early showings, and without losing half a night’s sleep. Most of the more popular movies coming out are now being made available at Teays Valley Cinemas on Thursday nights, at a 10 p.m. showing. Pretty cool, for me, and maybe for you, too.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.