Oz the Great and Powerful Review: No Courage, No Heart, No Brains

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Oz the Great and Powerful Review: No Courage, No Heart, No Brains

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | March 8, 2013 | Comments ()


Oz the Great and Powerful is roughly 297 hours long. Right around hour 18 you will begin praying for an intermission of some kind. Around hour 102, your will to live will slowly seep from your body. All the hours after that blend into one another as you listlessly readjust your 3-D glasses, taking in the enormous spectacle before you, the richness of color and stunning visual effects that may take your breath away, even as you dive headfirst into a bit of a yawn. Oz the Great and Powerful has many, many problems hidden like stones in the beauty and glory of the yellow brick road, so let's click our heels together and be on our way.

(Just Googled it and the movie's only 2 hours and 7 minutes long, a number so low I never would have guessed.)

The Oz books of L. Frank Baum were a huge part of my childhood, 14 magical novels bound in beautiful editions that belonged to my grandmother. I read and re-read them all voraciously, visiting the land of Oz many, many times before I ever saw the films, and then consuming both The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz with great fervor. Oz is the first magical kingdom I ever loved, the first that I knew the inhabitants as well as the inhabitants of my own neighborhood, their problems and triumphs as real to me as my own. I could never understand the limited scope the films took, omitting many great adventures and skipping over entire fascinating subplots in favor of what I felt were some of the more boring stories. In fact, the book upon which The Wizard of Oz is based was one of the most boring to me. Simply written and lacking in the truly versatile and dangerous charm of the others.

In the books, Oz was not always a safe place, there was dangers throughout the land, though I do remember that actually dying was very difficult. There was oppression aplenty and violence against others, stronger beings enforcing their will among those unable to fight back. There were powerful struggles between entities who wanted many different things, whose intentions could not be summed up instantly. Many, if not most of L. Frank Baum's strongest characters were women, and men often took a backseat to the powerful women who ruled the land, be it Ozma, the ruler of the Emerald City, or Dorothy, a vigilante for justice, or other female characters (Trot! Betsy Bobbin!) who found their way to Oz through various means. Likewise, the witches were powerful, serious, wise and just.

Sam Raimi's take on the entire affair, Oz the Great and Powerful, is colorful, vivid, strange and trying very, very hard to be a spectacle beyond all belief, but somewhere along the way they traded in the soul of the movie for some magic beans. A two bit magician who wants to be a great man, Oscar Diggs (James Franco), leaves behind the black and white vistas of Kansas and finds his way via hot air balloon to the magical, wonderful land of Oz. There, he's mistaken by a witch, the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis) for a long awaited wizard who is supposed to put and end to a wicked witch and set the people of Oz free at last. They march off, Theodora has apparently never met a guy before and seems to think that she and the wizard have a true love connection, even though he treats her rather poorly. They go meet up with a bunch of other people, misunderstandings happen, the wizard gets sent on a mission, I just... I just... it doesn't even really matter, guys. It just doesn't. There's three witches, there's one James Franco, and there's a lot of Things! To! Look! At!

At first, I was conned into thinking this was a progressive film with much to say about the confined nature of women's lives and the price we pay putting others first. But no, these women are without layers, one note bitches or goody two shoes who fall for things because they're too stupid not to. Theodora (Mila Kunis) falls in love with James Franco because he's a little bit nice to her and says she's pretty. Rachel Weisz is pretty and wants to keep on ruling over the land of Oz, and Glinda (Michelle Williams) is sort of monotonously pleasant and pretty. They interact in relation to this prophecy of a man come from the sky to save them all, and though they are possessing of real magic, they continually revere and laud the magician's cheap parlor tricks. There's no courage, no heart and certainly no brains to be found here.

James Franco. James.... Franco... Well, shit. Okay, I know he's a genius, and I personally think he's foxy and kind of charming and weirdly I know like three people who have dated him at some point or another, and I would be pretty scared to actually talk to him because I think I want him to like me as a person, but seriously what the hellllllll is he doing in this movie? It's a lot of grimacing, it's a lot of grinning, and over all it's just... a lot. I think Franco is actually turning down his natural weirdness, and did some good work on having a different accent than he usually does, but at the end of the day, it's Smirking James Franco in a Hat. Oh, and there's a talking monkey, voiced by Zach Braff. The monkey's face is lifelike and will haunt your dreams. You will know fear, and his name is Finley or something like that. Digby? Felixby? Anyway, there's also an adorable little china doll girl, probably my favorite character in the film, voiced by Joey King. Cuteness.

The movie is also weirdly scary, or hinty-at-being-scary depending on how you look at it. The flying monkeys are hellacious beasts, and the Wicked Witches are quite frightening, though nothing is quite as scary as Mila Kunis' acting. Margaret Hamilton, the original wicked witch, is undoubtedly rolling in her grave at the dull eyed staring and awkward breathing that Kunis employs to convey emotion. Everyone else is just about as guilty, though she really goes the extra mile to be really bad.

As a prequel of sorts, it's bound to many of the aesthetic decisions of The Wizard of Oz, but they still found a way to dress everyone as ugly as possibly, from the absolutely beautiful women of the film to the nameless, shapeless extras with terribly weird hairstyles and stupidly raggedly colorful clothes. It makes me tired, really. Rachel Weisz' positively bangin' body is draped in the most atrocious crystals and green gross weird icky dresses. The same goes for the other girls, whose equally beautiful forms are obscured by some of the most noticeably bad, nay, offensively bad costuming, hair and make up choices in recent memory. The one standout was these tight, tight, tight black leather pants that Mila Kunis is stuffed into in the early scenes. Just... no.

The rest of the production design is good, the general aesthetic dictated by The Wizard of Oz. Some of the special effects are ASTOUNDING. It's truly visually stunning from time to time, the landscapes and some of the details breathtakingly beautiful and is obviously absolutely engineered for 3-D technology, there's a basic problem of scope and dynamics. When a film fails to get the majority of details right, your mind goes straight for these aberrations like a cheetah on an antelope, and honey, the African plains were hoppin' with gazelles and antelopes of all kinds in this one.

Another strange thing: The land of Oz is one of the most relentlessly racially diverse places I've ever seen, in fact, it felt as if they were attempting to make up for the lack of diversity in The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately it simply made me wonder what happened to all these different races in the future, when Dorothy comes. Oz manages to become less diverse in the meantime! What kind of insane ethnic purging went on in the intervening years?!

Beyond these problems, the movie is oddly obsessed with morality, relentlessly talking about good and evil without ever teasing out why exactly any of it matters. There appears to be Good and there appears to be Evil, because the Evil characters want to be Evil and the Good characters want Good things to happen but I started to wander down shady mental lanes about six hours into it, snarling to myself that none of it mattered. They might as well have picked other arbitrary words like Blue and Red. "We don't like Red, because we are Blue. Blue is best! Join the Blue side!" Sure, one side wanted to keep the Oz people in slavery, but their lives didn't seem so bad. What's the difference between a free Oz and one that's in bondage? There doesn't seem to be much of one. In a post-modern world, and especially in a Hollywood system that believes that every viewpoint is valid and every decision must be tolerated and accepted, concepts such as Good and Evil fail to even make a drop of sense anymore, and feel laughably outdated. If the movie can't even be bothered to explain why the stakes matter, why should the audience be forced to mentally scramble to make it all work?

Though there is much to dislike about the film, there's also still plenty to admire, and even enjoy. Oz the Great and Powerful is a movie that is worth seeing, despite all its problems. It's entertaining, and interesting to look at, beautiful beyond measure occasionally, and potentially a treat for anyone who loved The Wizard of Oz. I know this seems like a strange way to end things, but I found myself wishing for the comforts of home, wanting to wake up and believe it was all a dream -- forgetting the unpleasant parts and focusing in on the beautiful.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Vee

    Rachel Weisz’ positively bangin’ body is draped in the most atrocious crystals and green gross weird icky dresses. The same goes for the other girls, whose equally beautiful forms are obscured by some of the most noticeably bad, nay, offensively bad costuming, hair and make up choices in recent memory.

    Did we watch the same movie? Weisz's dresses were fabulous! Mila was rocking those pants and the makeup was flawless. The greenface was wretched and Glinda's outfits were terrible though, I'll give you that.

  • Vee

    When a review doesn't even discuss the actual movie until 4 paragraphs in and the source material is so precious to the reviewer, I know I'm not going to get an unbiased review.

    That said, I agree with Amanda that James Franco and Mila Kunis had no business being in this movie. Franco's douchey hipster smirky thing doesn't fit the role and Mila can't handle things once Theodora gets darker (greener).

    Beyond those two pieces, I thought the movie was totally enjoyable. It wasn't great by any means, but it was the most entertaining and escapist movie I'd seen in a while.

    Spoilers, even after 2 weeks out:

    Theodora's character is flat, but Evanora and Glinda are both nuanced, and neither is fooled by the wizard. Evanora plays the doting advisor to his face, while puppet mastering her sister and sending the Wizard to get rid of an enemy. And Glinda, despite appearances, knows the Wizard is a fraud, but also knows she can use him as a figurehead. Of course she's perfect and sees the good in everyone, she's Glinda the Good Witch. She's fighting to maintain her father's legacy. I thought Michelle Williams portrayed the role without too much syrupy sweetness. Neither of the women were stupidly falling for the Wizard's bs, they were both using him to further their own agendas.
    I did hate that the Wicked Witch was that powerfully impacted by 1 day with the wizard that she would be evil forever, but I choose to see that as more of Evanora's manipulation and masterminding. Don't get me started on that makeup though, she looked a hot, flat mess.

  • PuraPuma

    The movie is eh. The story line is confusing at times. However, I'm glad I saw it in 3D because visually I loved it. The tornado scene was pretty awesome. The China Doll animation was pretty cool too. James Franco was James Franco. The story could have been wonderful but they failed there.

  • Devin McMusters

    I loved it. I had no idea it was two hours long. Mila is gorgeous, and JD as the monkey was hilarious.

  • Vee

    Seriously! I loved the monkey so much I got made fun of after the movie about how happy I was everytime he was on screen. I thought he was super cute.

  • Buck Forty

    I saw it today and I couldn't agree with you more. Oops, scratch 'more'. I can't agree with you. I really enjoyed it, and so did my. 11 y.o. daughter. But then we didn't have 14 leather bound editions from Grandma to read as a kid. No wonder you hated it! (We did watch the Wizard of Oz DVD a lot tho' and saw Wicked). Seriously, I respectfully doubt that any director could satisfy the magical world you already have created in your brain.

    The Oz books of L. Frank Baum were a huge part of my childhood, 14 magical novels bound in beautiful editions that belonged to my grandmother. I read and re-read them all voraciously, visiting the land of Oz many, many times before I ever saw the films, and then consuming both The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz with great fervor. Oz is the first magical kingdom I ever loved

  • Amanda Meyncke

    What's the point of setting a movie in an established world if you're not gonna even bother utilizing that world?

    The LOTR movies did pretty good staying in their world.

  • Buck Forty

    Ah, but this is the dichotomy of modern film making. The majority of the audience hasn't read the book(s) so studios don't feel bound to follow it religiously. I thought as a companion to the Wizard of Oz movie it worked well.
    Sent from my iPad

  • Jezzer

    Why do you keep pointing out that you haven't read books, like it's a badge of honor, instead of the horrible, awful shame it should be?

  • Buck Forty

    Oh, please. Where did I say "I don't read books"? If you read so many books maybe you should read my words more carefully.
    Sent from my iPad

  • Jezzer

    It was implied in the way you said that you didn't have the books growing up, and when you said that modern audiences don't read the books, and when you were practically rolling your eyes because Amanda reads.

    (No one cares about your iPad)

  • Vee

    Dude, Jezzer calm down. I don't think he was rolling his eyes at Amanda reading. However, when you spend an entire paragraph in a movie review talking about your own experience reading the books as a kid, then you're pretty invested and probably have a preconceived notion about what a successful adaptation is going to look like.
    Also, if you email from a device, most of the time it adds that line at the bottom automatically.

  • junierizzle

    I really enjoyed this movie. It was a solid prequel. I don't get all the hate. I know The Wizard of Oz is a classic but it is not the Godfather. OZ the Great and powerful has the same earnestness as The Wizard of Oz. It works as a fun family flick.

  • DeltaJuliet

    I saw it with my husband and oldest son this weekend and we loved it. The 3-D was amazing and the sets (or effects) were beautiful. I hate Franco but I was able to enjoy the movie for the story it told. It was a fun family film.

  • Buck Forty

    Yes, I enjoyed it too and have just said a much elsewhere. I have to wonder if some of those ripping into it so harshly have actually seen it.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Uhhhhhh, yes I've seen it.

  • Buck Forty

    Fair enough then! I don't mind people ripping into a film they hated, just people who start hating on something they haven't even seen yet. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to this rule).
    Sent from my iPad

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Pajiba is not in the habit of allowing people to review movies they haven't seen.

  • Vee

    I think it's pretty clear Buck Forty wasn't saying you as the reviewer hadn't seen the movie.

  • Buck Forty

    Er, that's not the point I was wanting to make at all - I was referring to some of the commenters, not reviewers!

  • Buck Forty

    And another "oops!" - my previous replies were via email notifications from Disqus. I didn't realize you were the writer of this review when I made those reply comments. (But again, to be clear, my original reply comment to junierizzle was referring to other people commenting on your post)

  • Protoguy

    And a Terrence Malick film is beautiful to look at, but after a couple of hours of beetles in the grass a gun barrel looks beautiful too.

  • Protoguy

    "... because I think I want him to like me as a person, but seriously what the hellllllll is he doing in this movie? "

    Fucking James Franco. He's mostly why I never considered seeing it. Fucking lingerer. He's stuck as a small time weed dealer in my head forever until he does something to knock it out. He hasn't so far.

  • Lee

    I just saw it and believe me, in this movie he's the Wizard of Weed dealers. He kept grinning this stupid stoned grin, like the whole movie was him on a mushroom trip. Around him, the "characters" (if you could call them that) were moved around the chess board by the director to keep the "plot" moving.

    I agree with Amanda - beautiful visuals, but Gawdalmighty, what a yaaawnfest!

  • Fredo

    An odd review for an odd movie.

    It sapped my lifeforce from my body like a Dementor taking out all the joy from me...but you should go see it.

  • Robert

    My theory is that Mila Kunis walked into this project with a lot of enthusiasm and then lost it all the first time she did a scene with James Franco. His trolling onscreen is one of the worst performances I've ever seen and I voluntarily consume the worst of the worst of the horror genre. The only actor who managed to not completely lose character mid-scene with Franco was Michelle Williams and she skirts by as the only character who gets to tell him off and abuse him at all.

  • QueeferSutherland

    I'm at the point with Franco where it's easier to give me a list of roles he's suited for than to list the times he's been miscast. Franco is an interesting, thoughtful, and sometimes funny guy. He's also a borderline terrible actor who succeeds only when given roles specifically tailored to his limited skill set. Not sure what the hell Raimi was thinking choosing Franco to headline a kids movie, but here we are.

  • Mike Galok

    Have you ever seen Red vs. Blue? It pretty much portrays the exact concept that you mentioned comparing good and evil. It's also hilarious.

    Also I pretty much expected what you described from a Sam Raimi film. He's not exactly known for his ability to go deep into character development and sub-plots. When you look at his body of work, really only three titles stand out in that category, Spiderman (just the first one), The Quick and the Dead, and For Love of the Game. Even then, none of them are mind-blowing or heart-wrenching just the best out of his body of film making. On top of that you can even take the credit for those three and give it to the performances by Toby MacGuire, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Russel Crowe.

    What else would you expect from the brains behind Evil Dead, The Grudge, Army of Darkness, Xena: the Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and let's not forget Spiderman 3. Not exactly a body of work that is going to win awards for writing or directing .

  • Tinkerville

    Red vs. Blue is a work of comedic genius. Seriously better than 95% of comedy on TV.

  • jollies

    I'm confused. This movie will cause my will to live to seep from my body, but it's simultaneously a movie worth seeing?

    I want to see movies worth seeing, but I don't want to lose my will to live.
    WHAT DO I DO???

  • $27019454

    Totally agree. The review confused the hell out of me and I am not sure the reviewer even knows how she feels about it.

    I do like the Smirking James Franco In A Hat Thing, though.

  • $27019454

    And the effects are ASTOUNDING but then I'm a cheetah pouncing when the many, myriad bad-effect-thingies come ou to frolic?

  • Tinkerville

    I worshipped the Oz books as a kid to the point where as a six-year old I demanded that my parents call me Ozma because I loved her character so much. I'm not against reinterpretations of the source material or even prequels if done in an interesting way with great stories that maintain the wonderfully imaginative spirit of the books.

    This piece of shit movie can languish in hell. I hope the spirit of Frank Baum comes back to beat Sam Raimi over the head with a baseball bat and that he's forever tormented by nightmares of wheelers and Princess Langwidere stealing his head (not that she would, because she only likes the pretty ones). Fuck him, is what I'm saying. And oh yes, throwing in a male protagonist in a series with kickass female heroines is exactly what we all needed. There's such a shortage of those in our lives.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Not to mention making the battle for Oz the result of a scorned woman. Eye roll.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    So, it's like Raimi's "Spiderman" series, then? Pretty to look at, but with a simplistic story and badly developed characters.

  • Lee

    The characters are so one dimensional, they make the Transformers seem like Shakespeare. I have never felt so much like the plot was being made up as it went along, with forced melodrama to keep us interested.

  • chanohack

    I, too, was really into Oz when I was a kid. I talked to my grandma a few days ago and she reminded me of this story: the Christmas after I turned three, my grandparents, who are very crafty people, decided that I needed some Wizard of Oz toys to play with since I was reenacting the entire movie over and over again anyway. Granddad cut silhouettes out of wood and Grandma painted them (and went into a lot of detail-- they really are very beautiful). Late on Christmas Eve she was finishing up the aggressive apple tree figures (right?) and was too tired to paint in the apples, so she stopped for the night. When I saw the figures the next morning, I apparently zeroed in on the only detail that she hadn't finished and said, "But Grandma, where are the apples?!?" (To me, this story shows that I was a demanding and ungrateful child, but my grandma seems to think it's proof that I'm the Smartest Person Ever and was at the very least a three-year-old Oz savant. Her ability to prove that my siblings and I are wonderful from any given evidence is amazingly crazy, and I love her.)

    As a former Oz savant I think I'm contractually obligated to see this movie, as well as whatever TMNT shit may eventually come our way, and this review has given me a much better idea of what to expect and whom to watch it with, so thank you.

  • mswas

    I'm Blue because this movie stinks, but I'm so happy to have Red your review.

  • Has anyone else been completely distracted by Mila Kunis' proportions in all of the press/promotional material for this movie?

  • ZombieNurse

    “We don’t like Red, because we are Blue. Blue is best! Join the Blue side!”

    That's what bigotry is, though. Let's hate something because it's different and we don't like different! Let's hate something because it isn't what we want! Bigotry, no matter what kind, doesn't need reasons, it just deals with ignorant absolutes. If that is how the whole good verses evil thing is portrayed in this movie, it's probably the most honest depiction ever recorded on film.

  • BWeaves

    I refuse to watch movies because they are interesting to look at. I have bad eye sight. The damn thing better have snappy writing and interesting dialog. I still haven't seen Dances With Wolves, because everyone told me, "You have to see it for the scenery." I can go for a walk if I want to look at scenery. And yeah, I still haven't seen Avatar for a similar reason.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    I also find 3D glasses to be rather uncomfortable perched on top of my regular glasses.

  • chanohack

    I don't find it physically uncomfortable, but it's amazing how hilarious people think it is. "Oh no, how are you going to watch the movie? What are you... OMG! You're wearing two sets of glasses! Everybody look! HAHAHAHAHAHA!" wth.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Do you hang around a lot of 12 year olds? I have quite thick frames and so the 3D glasses wobble, which is annoying because I have to keep my head reaaaaally still. But yeah, it works.

  • chanohack

    You'd think so, wouldn't you? Jesus.

  • Drake
  • jcoa2

    Grantland, too.

  • Is it bad that I thought this was a Tim Burton movie?

  • Ben

    Quick test to check weather a new movie is by Burton or not.
    "Do Johnny Depp and Hellan Boham Carter make out in it"
    If yes, you've got yourself a Burton movie.

  • Protoguy

    Props and set are not a film.

  • linnyloo

    When I heard that James Franco, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis were cast, I just inwardly cringed. Although they've been amazing in movies that fit their abilities, they are all too contemporary to really pull off that timeless look. Their speech patterns, their physicality, it just all places them so firmly in a more modern era. James Franco has a mushy way of talking and perpetually shaggy appearance that just doesn't fit with the turn of the century. People like Eva Green, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Dominic Cooper, Hugo Weaving, Adrian Brody, and John Barrowman are all much less unilaterally "modern" to me, and could pull off an earlier time period well. (I also count Rachel Weisz on that list too...). I also knew they'd spend so much time on the effects that story would be ignored. Bah.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I could see Mila Kunis as a 20s era flapper.

  • linnyloo

    Ah, but when she opens her mouth, it's Meg Griffin as a 20s era flapper.

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