Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on: L. Frank Baum‘s Oz novels
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox, Bruce Campbell

Plot:
Oz (James Franco) is a second rate magician in a small travelling circus and a great womanizer. When he gets into trouble for sleeping with the wrong woman, he flees in a balloon, but ends up caught in a tornado. When the wind calms down, Oz is – surprisingly – still alive and finds himself in the magical country of Oz. He is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch, who tells him that his arrival has been prophesized and he needs to save the land from the evil witch. Oz takes on the challenge because there seems to be money on the horizon, plus a chance to get into Theodora’s pants. But it turns out that there is more to the story than that.

I have so many issues that I’m surprised I managed to enjoy Oz the Great and Powerful at all. But enjoyment was had, though the issues outweigh it by far.

Oz-The-Great-and-Powerful

James Franco has been getting a lot of hate in the past few months, which I don’t think is completely warranted, usually. He needs a strong director and to stay away from stoner movies, but then he’s usually really good. Well. Not in this film. You can barely call what he does here acting.

But that’s not the movie’s worst problem. The worst problem is that Oz is there at all. He brings nothing to the story. In fact, you have these three powerful women in Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) and they all put their fate into his hands, knowing full well that he is a bumbling idiot, an opportunistic asshole and a liar who sees the people around him only in terms of their usefulness to him and you just keep wondering why. Why don’t they just use their own magic – they have an abundance of it and not only tricks like him? Why don’t they just kick him out and have their own fight? WHY DOES NOBODY STRANGLE HIM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT?

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Plus, his character development – especially if you consider where he ends up in the further installments – makes no sense whatsoever. And let’s not even talk about Theodora’s “character development” because bleargh. Women can’t handle break-ups! If a guy betrays them, of course they’ll turn evil. And we have again, the conflating of beauty and goodness, just as in Hansel and Gretel.

There were some things that worked pretty well. The movie looks good and the transition from black and white to color is beautifully done. There are some good jokes, too [though certainly not the whole thing with Knuck (Tony Cox) that drove me freaking insane]. China Town was a nice pun, but it did freak me out a little (china people living in china houses is like humans living in flesh houses, isn’t it?). And the movie felt shorter than the two hours it was (though it did have a couple of lenghts). But in the end there are too many issues to make it really worth it.

Oz-The-Great-and-Powerful2

Summarising: Maybe if you shut off your brain completely.

6 thoughts on “Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

  1. I can understand your point about beauty and a good character. However, one could argue that a) Rachel Weisz is rather beautiful too, but probably the worst of the bunch (and yes, her beauty is a fraud, but doesn’t that go at least slightly against your criticism about beauty and goodness going hand in hand?), and b) that its simply a factor of bringing their inner ugliness to the outside.

    Also, it wasn’t simply the break-up. Her sister very much manipulated and essentially tricked her into it.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to say that I loved it. I found it to be an incredibly charming piece of cinema, and a great hommage to the classic. I especially liked everything about the china girl, but I pretty much enjoyed it all. I also don’t get your criticism concerning James Franco, who I felt to be quite charming in the role. Again, it seems like we have to agree to disagree. ;-)

    • Regarding beauty and goodness: there is just this really long history that being good makes you beautiful and hence being beautiful makes you good. Which is a load of crap. But this movie plays right into that. There is never any doubt that Evanora is good once we meet her, because she’s blond and beautiful. When Glinda gives into her dark side, she immediately becomes ugly. And Theodora has to magic herself beautiful because she’s so evil she couldn’t actually be pretty. [Of course Rachel Weisz is extremely beautiful.]
      But inner beauty is not the same as outer beauty and while there are some stories that try to turn this trope on its head and have the evil-but-beautiful seductress or the ugly-but-good-at-heart helper, its the correlation between looks and goodness itself that is so extremely problematic. You can’t just look at a person to know whether they’re good and kind and wonderful or evil and mean and generally sucky. But the repeating of this trope in stories over and over again makes people expect that. It’s exactly why people always say “well he looked so nice and was always friendly” when their neighbor is arrested as a serial killer. [Okay, this might be a pretty big jump, but I promise that I could argue my way through it.]

      And Glinda didn’t know that her sister was manipulating her. For her it was a break-up. A rather ugly one, maybe, since she believed her ex to dump her for her sister. But honestly. She knew the guy for two days, and she goes that crazy? This again ties into a cultural narrative that women can’t handle their shit at all.

      There were certainly charming parts about it, though James Franco wasn’t one of those parts (honestly, he was more seductive in Spring Breakers and that’s saying something).

      But yeah, I guess we disagree again, as we do so often. ;)

      • I can’t really argue with you about the beauty/good, ugly/bad part. While for me, the revelation concerning Theodora (she PRETENDS to be beautiful) and the transformation of Glinda (which goes into the other direction: The movie puts her inner ugliness to the outside) made it tolerable, I totally understand when it rubs someone else the wrong way. However, I think one has to keep in mind that, as a quasi-prequel to “Wizard of Oz”, they kinda had to stick with what was done in the past.

        Hmm… I look nice and am always friendly. Should my neighbors/coworkers worry? :-p

        Two people falling for each other almost instantly is a problem in many movies/stories. For me, it’s all about context. It the rest of the movie is really serious and tries to be realistic, stuff like that puts me off. But in a fantasy movie like “Oz”, I can accept it.

        • Your neighbors should probably be very worried. ;)

          For me, the fantastic setting does not mean that relationships should be fantastic, too. In fact, if the people and the relationships they have, don’t feel real, the fantastic setting doesn’t work for me either. As Genevieve Valentine put it so beautifully (http://glvalentine.livejournal.com/319997.html) – for a SF context: “If your movie is super high concept, and I decide to see it, I have probably, to some degree, already accepted the concept, you know? “Everyone in the future has a puppy surgically grafted to their chests.” Okay, fine, I promise not to spend a lot of the movie going, “Surgically grafting a puppy to your chest is a weird thing for a person to do.” I will, however, question every piece of outerwear that does not have a dog-head flap in it, or any moment in your movie where a character is like, “Well, now my dog has grown too big for my chest cavity and medical science didn’t allow for that in the many generations we have been living with these grafted puppies, so now it’s too late for me, you go on!” Because that is worldbuilding, and that you need to do. And the higher the concept is, the more work you need to do.” The same goes for the fantastic, too: make the setting whatever you like, but the consequences of the setting and the people in it should be real otherwise it won’t work.

          No matter the setting, having people (who are not teens, for teens I can make excuses) fall in love immediately, desperately and irrevocably within a couple of days, so that they go on to do crazy things straight away is just lazy writing.

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