Oz the Great and Powerful: Pretty and Vapid

Oz the Great and Powerful stars James Franco as Oz, Rachel Weisz as Evanora,  Mila Kundis playing Theodora and Michelle Williams as Glinda. That’s a chunk of talent to waste on a pretty movie with a story that moves from flat to emotionally illogical. Like some people we’ve met, it’s very, very pretty, and ultimately shallow.

Oscar, or “Oz” is a carnival magician. He is proficient but self-centered, more interested in seducing pretty women than anything else. The opening is set in Kansas, shot in sepia tones (not quite black and white), where he is visited by a woman he was attracted to when he came through town the last time. She wants him to know a neighbor, John Gale, (a bit of provenance here, clearly she is going to be Dorothy Gale’s mother) has asked her to marry him. Plainly she is giving Oz one last chance to sweep her off her feet; he doesn’t. He tells her she deserves a good man; he doesn’t want to be a good man — he wants to be a great man. Then he climbs aboard a hot-air balloon and gets swept away by a tornado.

Before that happens though, he does his magic act and makes a pretty girl disappear. A crippled girl in the front row asks him to make her able to walk. Her impoverished parents offer him money, and the crowd turns on him when he won’t heal the girl. This makes no  sense at all. This isn’t a tent-revival, it’s a carnival. the vulnerable little girl might ask; her parents and the crowd certainly wouldn’t. The point of this, of course, is to show that Oz can’t work miracles. Apparently the screenplay can’t either, because this sequence makes no sense.

But then the balloon, etc… Oz lands in a world that slaps us across the face with color. The Oz-parts of the movie are stunningly beautiful,  with lush, high-contrast colors; flowers, trees, birds and butterflies. Oz crashes into a river and meets Theodora, fetchingly decked out in black riding pants, a red jacket and big floppy red hat. Theodora is delighted to meet him, especially when she finds out his name is Oz. The king of Oz, who was murdered, gave a prophecy that a wizard would come with the name of the land, and save the people from the wicked witch.

That’s a fine prophecy, with only one small problem… the king was poisoned by the wicked witch; and nobody knew she was wicked until she did that; including the king. So I guess this is a posthumous prophecy.

Oz smells an opportunity, so he charms Theodora, using a trick with a music box that we have seen earlier. Along the road to Oz he meets a flying monkey in a bellhop suit, rescues him from a lion, and takes him on as an assistant. Finnigan, the monkey, swears loyalty to Oz to his dying day; Oz then admits he’s not a real wizard (but only to Finnigan). In the Emerald City, which really is made of emeralds, he meets Theodora’s older sister Evanora, who explains that she is the royal advisor. Oz will be the new king… right after he kills the wicked witch. It’s easy; all he has to do is break her wand.

Evanora also cautions Theodora not to get too attached to the wizard. Plainly it’s too late; naive young Theodora has lost her heart to Oz, although frankly it’s hard to see why. He’d just not that cool. Oz sets off on his quest and meets a porcelain girl whose legs have been broken; her village (charmingly made of teapots) was destroyed by the witch’s flying baboons. Oz mends her legs with some glue from his bag of tricks; and this is the first emotionally affecting scene in the movie. (He lets her walk again! Get it?) China Girl is vulnerable and shy but wants to go with him to kill the witch, and after she throws a first-rate tantrum he agrees. The three of them go off to the dark forest to confront the Wicked Witch; who is blond, drop-dead gorgeous and not wicked at all. From there things go exactly as expected.

The big single problem is that the writers of this movie didn’t have a story. More accurately, they didn’t know whose story they wanted to tell. Oz could have a story; Oz wants to be Thomas Alva Edison. This could have played out with some character growth for him, but probably, then, would not end up with him being the Wizard of Oz, and this is a prequel. The most complete and tragic character arc is that of Theodora; but the back-story is too murky. Why is this powerful witch so sheltered that she would fall in love with the first man who asked her to dance? Does Theodora believe for one second that Glinda actually murdered the previous wizard king? Of course she doesn’t. Theordora has a great story, and a great version of that story is included in the musical Wicked.

The movie also doesn’t know if it believes in magic or not. Oz plans to defeat the witches using Yankee ingenuity, and putting on a great magic show (in short, doing what he will do in The Wizard of Oz); but behind the scenes there is a mano a mano magical duel. The witches, though, seems scared of Oz’s stage tricks. Well, which is it? Stage magic or real magic? Dude, pick a side and go with it.

Rachel Wiesz does the best she can do with an ungrateful part, but she does she get a great wardrobe out of the deal.

It’s a measure of how disengaged I was that I thought at least twice that they should have made the movie 10 years earlier and case Johnny Depp. It wouldn’t have helped. The movie needed a story, and a solid back-story, and some real characters.

But it shore is purty.



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