Abracadabra...Prestidigitation! Illusory it was—magic it was not.
Like the Snow White adaptation, Mirror Mirror last year, this is a movie for children. You must go to this with that in mind—it is silly, playful and juvenile. Yet, I can't say that I hated this movie. I was disappointed that the filmmakers did not attempt to produce a spectacle suitable for all ages but I found myself enjoying the origin story of Oz anyway.
The choice to start the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio was interesting and actually effective when it opened up to widescreen with a colorful landscape view but the choice to keep it black and white and not sepia made the whole throwback feel lacking. If you think about comparing the characters to the original you will fall way short as well. A super cute porcelain doll, an obsequious winged monkey and conman Oz vs Dorothy, Toto, scarecrow, lion and tin man—sorry, no contest.
On to some other qualms... There are three witches in control of Oz which is bitchin fun but also prone to deceit and underhanded trickery. The witches look appropriate to Oz but when Kunis eats the apple and transmogrifies into the wicked witch she still has perfect skin. You will probably notice some peculiar references to other fantasy franchises throughout the story also. The wicked queen has Star Wars emperor like powers, Kunis eats a tainted apple like Snow White and so on. The twister, 74 years later, is still the best transport to this crazy wonderland and somehow feels appropriate—maybe it's the only way into Oz?
I like Sam Raimi and I found the film to stay consistent throughout but all in all a lackluster prequel, especially for adult audiences. It makes me wonder what makes a classic a classic and why the original is so special and appropriate for all ages and yet this new version clearly isn't. With the passage of time, creativity does not always supersede the past. This is obvious I guess and I am certainly not one to claim or think that nothing amazing gets created anymore—that kind of thinking really only displays ignorance of the art world at large—but I can't help but think that Victor Fleming understood something about artful entertainment in the 1930's that we have subsequently lost. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz universe, never wrote this prequel but did pen 16+ other Oz stories from 1900 to 1919. The only other Oz film of note is the great editor Walter Murch adaptation, the bizarre live action Return to Oz.
A quick note about two more films:
EMPEROR - a slow but interesting WWII story about the investigation of the Japanese emperor's involvement in the attack on Pearl Harbor. I cannot judge the veracity of the story and if I had to guess I would say the whole love story side plot was added for narrative engagement but I found myself enjoying the picture and questioning my knowledge of history. I think this one is worth your time. Tommy Lee Jones plays a mean General MacArthur and Lost's Matthew Fox does a fine job.
DEAD MAN DOWN - I found the Danish trilogy of Dragon Tattoo films to be highly overrated. And although Dead Man Down is the first American film to come from that director, I happened to enjoy it's European sensibilities. It is not receiving much praise in the critiverse but however ridiculous the plot is, we still are privy to a taut thriller. I don't care for Noomi Rapace but this was my favorite performance of hers yet given. Colin Ferrell was solid in the role as well.
Until next time...
Recommended Viewing: Return To Oz - The Wizard Of Oz (1939) - Snow White (1937)
Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0 - The Fan: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 61