When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Fame and fortune are his for the taking. That is until he meets three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity and even a bit of wizardry, Oscar transforms himself not only into a great wizard but into a better man as well.
There have been several attempts to return to the world of Oz since the original film and none of them have fared to well until Sam Raimi put his own twist to the tale. Oz the Great and Powerful, takes place before the events of Dorothy’s adventures, as we learn about who was the Wizard of Oz and how he came to be. This version‘s Wizard was originally intended for Robert Downey Jr. (who would have been perfect in this role) but when he passed, it went to Rami’s longtime star James Franco instead. Raimi wisely brought in some other strong actors to surround Franco and combined with some beautiful visuals and some great effects, the movie was successful at the box office despite its slight story.
The movie opens in Kansas in 1905 (20 years before Dorothy and the tornado), where Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a small time magician/con man working in a traveling circus. Oscar (or Oz as he likes to be called) spends his time wowing local yokels and seducing gullible girls which backfires when his audience turns against him for not helping a crippled girl walk and a husband tries to catch him for messing with his wife. Oz’s only option of escape is a nearby hot air balloon which he jumps in only to discover that his flight path is headed straight for a tornado. Whisked away and subjected to some random abuse in the eye of the storm that bears Raimi’s touch, Oz finds himself in the magical Land of Oz
He’s met there by a good witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who believes he is the one prophesied to kill the Wicked Witch who has killed the King of Oz already. Being the con man that he is, Oz goes along with her assumption and starts flirting with her which makes her fall in love with him. Theodora soon becomes convinced that she will be Oz’s Queen once he marries her, not knowing that his personality isn’t suited for those kind of thoughts. Along the way, they run into a variety of characters, some of which will later appear in The Wizard of Oz such as the cowardly lion, who only becomes that way because Oz scares him away from a small winged monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).
When they finally reach the Emerald City, Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who isn’t as enamored by Oz as her sister. In fact, she seems to know his true character more than Theodora as she shows him the city’s treasury room. Tempted by all of the gold, Oz accepts the mission to kill the Wicked Witch whom he’s been told is called Glenda (Michelle Williams). On the trek to find Glinda, Finley and him stumble upon a destroyed china cup village and a living china doll (voiced by Jaimi King), whose village was destroyed by the Wicked Witch of the East’s flying monkeys. Seeing the destruction firsthand, Oz starts to realize that there’s more than gold at stake in destroying the Wicked Witch. It’s not long before he discovers that Glinda isn’t the Wicked Witch, but instead she actually is the Good Witch who’s fighting the real Wicked Witch. Glinda takes Oz to present him to the good people of Oz as their savior, even though she knows he isn’t the Wizard he claims to be as she knows that sometimes the idea is better than the reality. She believes that even if he isn’t the Wizard he’s supposed to be, that doesn’t mean he still can’t full fulfill the prophecy anyway. But for that to happen, Oz is going to have to decide on what kind of man he wants to be first.
Oz The Great and Powerful is a fun return to the land of Oz that’s filled with some beautiful imagery and some nice performances. Sam Raimi wouldn’t have been my first choice to direct this kind of movie (I’m still waiting for him to make a sequel to Army of Darkness), he does a nice job not only adapting an existing world, but also adding his own signature touches to it. It’s a return to family fare for him and it’s nice to see that he hasn’t lost his touch. While I would have preferred the original choice of Robert Downey Jr. for the role of Oz, James Franco does a good job showing both the good and bad sides of his character. Oz is a flawed character who grows as a person thanks to his experiences and Franco sells the character’s arc well.
Michelle Williams keeps Glinda’s sweetness ever present while showing a slight edge when needed while Rachel Weisz shows her ruthless side as Evanora. For pros like Williams and Weisz, these roles couldn’t have been too hard to pull off but both performers make sure that they don’t go over the top and stay true to their characters. Mila Kunis ends up having the most difficult role, and it’s one that has a lot of baggage. Kunis pulls it off for the most part although I won’t go into any details to avoid spoiling the movie for those that haven’t seen it yet. It was also nice to see my favorite “B” actor Bruce Campbell guarding the door once again in a Raimi film. I love seeing the ever loyal Raimi filling his movies with his friends and family (and car!) every time. If the goal of this film was to extend the interest in The Wizard of Oz and to start a new franchise in that land, then it succeeded admirably, based on the box office tally and in the case of my house, the fact that my son now wants to watch the original film to see what happens next.
2D Video 3D Video
Disney was kind enough to provide me both the 2D and the 3D versions of the movie so I could review both of them. And I’m happy to report that as usual, Disney has done a great job with these 1080p transfers as both of these versions look fantastic although I prefer the 3D version more. They both open with a 1.33:1 ratio for life in the black and white real world just like in The Wizard of Oz before slowly expanding to the glorious 2.40:1 ratio for the vibrant world of Oz. It was amusing to me to see my son complain about the cramped black and white opening of the film only to cheer when it rolled open to the reveal the full picture in all of its dazzling color. These transfers really deliver that experience with detailed lush visuals that really look amazing. Even the 3D transfer offers bright rich hues with none of the dimness that seems to afflict many 3D presentations. Flesh tones are accurate and the black levels are solid and inky although there is some minor crush to be found in some of the darkest scenes. The 2D version looks great and people will be very happy with it, but I’d recommend people picking up the 3D version if they have the set up for it as that’s the version that really brings Oz to life. The extra dimensionality really gives Oz more of a presence which helps add some extra believability to the magic of the world. Neither version suffers from any serious digital defects or other issues to detract from its picture quality. There’s plenty of cool 3D gags that take advantage of the format without much problem from any pesky ghosting images. If you have a 3D TV and a Blu-ray player that can handle it, then 3D is the best option for this release.
Oz the Great and Powerful’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix is just as good as its picture quality, with a powerful and immersive track that supports and enhances the movie quite a bit. Between the huge rumbling tornado, the feats of magic, and the flying monkeys, this mix will keep you blown back in your seat throughout the movie. The tornado sequence was my favorite part and Disney did a fantastic job weaving the sound through all of the channels to deliver quite an immersive and accurate sonic experience. The quieter scenes are just as effective as the big ones and the dialogue is crystal clear. I was also happy that Sam Raimi and composer Danny Elfman reconciled so we can get another great effort from the two of them which also sounds great. This is a an impressive mix that expertly uses each channel to its full potential and is sure to make the viewing experience a lot more fun for viewers.
Disney has changed the way they are releasing their movies and this space seems as good a place as any to talk about that. For the first time, Disney has abandoned their previous practice of bundling a 2D Blu-ray along with their 3D release. This time, if you want the 3D version, all you’re going to get is the 3D version of the movie and a digital copy of the movie. So that means that there’s no more 2D version of the movie, and no more traditional extras that come on an extra disc. The only way that version‘s extras can be viewed is from accessing them through your digital copy online which is now called Digital Copy Plus. Unlike previous releases, your choice of digital copy won’t automatically be from iTunes, as now you can pick between iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or Vudu. If you want both the 2D and 3D versions of the film, you can either just buy both sets, or go through the Disney Rewards Program to buy just the discs (the 2D version is $5.99 and the 3D version is $5.99).
Here are the high definition extras that you will find on the 2D Blu-ray set and in the case of the 3D version, on Digital Copy Plus unless noted differently:
- The Magic of Oz the Great and Powerful – Disney’s Second Screen experience – Once you download this app for your PC or Tablet, you can sync On Stranger Tides to with the Second Screen app to enjoy exclusive behind-the-scenes content and more, including the opportunity to record your own commentary for the movie.
- Walt Disney and the Road to Oz – A ten minute look at Walt Disney’s efforts to make a Wizard of Oz movie. We learn how he went after the property and tried several different iterations of Baum’s books.
- My Journey in Oz, by James Franco – This is a twenty-two minute look behind the scenes as filmed and hosted by James Franco who talks to the key people involved in the film. We hear from the droll Sam Raimi who insists that he wants to be an actor, to Mila Kunis, and he also talks with Zach Braff and others who share how they approached their roles since they are off screen.
- China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief – A five minute look at how they brought China Girl to life. I thought this was fairly interesting as I just assumed that the actors just talked in front of a green screen but thanks to this, I’ve learned that they also had an on set marionette that would act out the scene for the actors which later turned into the final CGI creation. We also hear from actress Joey King who voices the china doll in the movie.
- Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz – This is a short featurette that covers the many design and production efforts that made the movie look so good.
- Metamorphosis – If you’d like to learn just how the makeup for the Wicked Witch was designed and applied, then this is the extra for you. We see the entire process in time lapsed segments.
- Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions – I am so happy that Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman patched things up as they work together so well. Raimi should always be Raimi’s composer just like he is for Tim Burton as they share similar sensibilities. In the short piece, Elfman talks about how this was the easiest film for him to score as it all just came to him which never happens for him.
- DVD Copy of the Film (2D set only)
- Digital Copy of the Film
The movie is a fun but slight return to Oz that’s bolstered by this Blu-ray’s fantastic video and audio quality and some very good 3D that I think should be the way to go. The extras are all good too but I don’t like the direction that Disney is going with them. I was fortunate enough to get both versions to review so I got everything but for those people that have to buy the movie, they will have to either pick between the 2D or 3D set or pay extra money to get whatever disc they are missing which I think is wrong. I don’t understand why Disney is no longer offering a 3D/2D set that contains both versions, the extras, and the digital copy. The people buying the 3D set are already paying a higher premium for 3D so making them pay another $6 online for their missing disc doesn’t seem very fair or customer friendly to me. I really hope they rethink this approach because families are going to want both versions of their movies – the 3D one for the living room and the 2D one for when they are on the go. While I don’t think there needs to be five different releases of the same movie, at least families have a lot of options to pick what exactly they want and in whatever configuration they need.
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