With The Wizard of Oz (both book and film) being one of the world’s most recognizable properties, it’s not surprising that many writers have tried many ways to exploit the popular and beloved story and characters. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (and the subsequent Broadway musical written by Winnie Holtzman who adapted the novel for her own happier purposes) offered back story on Oz’s witches before Dorothy entered their lives, and now Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful does the same thing only this time with the focus on the Wizard himself. None of these reimaginings can use outright copyrighted images and ideas from the MGM classic, but it’s amazing how beautifully the creators of these subsequent properties have managed to capture somehow the tones and textures of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world while fashioning fresh creative dimensions around their own stories.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1, 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DD, English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copykeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/11/2013
It’s Kansas in 1905 and Oscar Diggs nicknamed “Oz” (James Franco) works as a carnival magician but is somewhat resentful that he isn’t enjoying greater professional success. As a serial womanizer, he’s got his hooks into every attractive face at the third rate carnival, but when the circus strongman (Tim Holmes) comes after him for being involved with his wife, Oz hops in his hot air balloon to make a quick getaway. All of this happens just as a cyclone comes spinning into the area, and Oz is quickly swept up into it, whirled around, and deposited into a strange, wondrous land which just so happens is also named Oz. He meets attractive young witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who falls for the same snake oil he feeds all of his Kansas cuties, but because she firmly believes he is indeed the wizard who had been foretold to land there, she imagines marrying Oz and ruling the land with him. Theodora’s jealous sister, the evil Evanora (Rachel Weisz), sees through the imposter and sends him into the dark forest to retrieve the magic wand of the witch who resides there effectively killing her, but when he meets Glinda (Michelle Williams), her beauty and innocence win him over as he realizes that the other witches are the evil ones who have their own plans for taking over Oz and ruling it harshly.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Taking their cue from the treatment of the original book by the MGM screenwriters, Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire have written in their screenplay the Kansas scenes (presented in the old Academy ratio and in black and white) with characters who will appear in Oz in other guises but with traits comparable to their Kansas counterparts. Viewers thoroughly schooled in The Wizard of Oz will likely revel in the continual allusions to the book and film and yet Kapner and Lindsay-Abaire have not slavishly followed any set formula in creating this new version of Oz. Yes, there are Munchkins and Winkies and Flying Monkeys, the poppy field is there as is the dark forest and the yellow brick road, and it’s delightful seeing the genesis of what will be familiar sets from the MGM movie (particularly the Wizard’s throne room and the hot air balloon) eventually come together. But the film seems a little light on plot. There are so many characters for us to get to know that there hardly seems time to generate the kind of gripping narrative that pulls us along eagerly from scene to scene. Since this is an origin story film that must concentrate on getting the witches and the wizard into their proper hierarchy before Dorothy inevitably arrives, the plot suffers, and we’re left with basically a battle royal between the forces of good and evil with good basically relying on a flimsy bag of magician’s tricks to save the day.
But director Sam Raimi keeps our discoveries in this new Oz continually fresh and fun. A new China Doll character (voiced by Joey King who plays a crippled child in the Kansas sequence) is a delightful addition to the Land of Oz, and Oscar gets his own personal flying monkey Finley (voiced by Zach Braff who plays his offstage assistant in Kansas) who becomes a welcome partner and traveling companion. Raimi protracts the Wicked Witch of the West’s fiery entrance by a few beats too many (obviously trying to outdo her original entrance in the 1939 film), but the action set pieces once the battle begins all work wonderfully and aren’t prolonged to the point of exhaustion.
James Franco’s Oscar pushes the ladies’ man idea into overdrive as the fraudulent magician/wizard, but he certainly grounds the movie and gains in confidence and appeal as the movie progresses. Having to play what turns into one of the most iconic characters in all cinema is a daunting job for Mila Kunis who gets away with it but only barely. She does manage to add some convincing heartbreak to her embittered Theodora which adds some shades to her character, something that isn’t afforded Rachel Weisz’s more conventionally evil and conniving Evanora. Michelle Williams is a lovely but perhaps too-down-to-earth Glinda, less regal and bubbly (no pun intended) than the role’s originator. Zach Braff is a loyal companion though he might have turned up the funny just a notch while Joey King is whimsical and poignant as the delicate China.
The film opens in 1.33:1 and black and white and spreads into 2.40:1 and color once the balloon crash lands in Oz, all delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. The monochrome scenes, while not quite possessing the sepia tint as in the original 1939 film, are excellently sharp and detailed. The Oz scenes, of course, feature breathtakingly rich and super-saturated color (sometimes fluorescent but not to the point of blooming) and pleasing sharpness throughout. Black levels are superb, and entering the Dark Forest is something of a relief from the almost oppressive color of what has gone before. When the characters emerge, the color seems vivid but a little less overwhelming while still remaining a great feast for the eyes. The film has been divided into 52 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The disc defaults to a Dolby 2.0 Surround track (for those watching the disc and feeding the sound only to the TV speakers), but the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is a remarkable achievement with continual delights for the ear. When the balloon is thrust up inside the cyclone, the surrounding sound is as enveloping as anything ever presented in a surround track. The hideous screeches of the winged monkeys will tax even the most sophisticated sound systems, and the mixture of sound effects, music (engaging score by Danny Elfman), and beautifully recorded dialogue (bound to the center channel) are melded in perfect harmony.
Audio Rating: 5/5
Disney Second Screen: downloadable app that allows viewers to watch additional supplements during the movie.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz (10:13, HD): interesting story of Disney’s plans for the Oz books down through the years and why they weren’t exploited during his lifetime.
James Franco: My Journey in Oz (21:43, HD): the star’s video diary as he talks to his director and various members of the cast about the movie.
China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief (5:26, HD): actress Joey King along with production designer Robert Stromberg, costume designer Michael Kutsche, and others discuss the use of a marionette during filming with its later replacement by a CGI doll.
Before Your Very Eyes (11:02, HD): producer Joe Roth, production designer Robert Stromberg, director Sam Raimi, visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk, and various stars of the movie take us on tours of some of the film’s thirty sets.
Mila’s Metamorphosis (7:43, HD): the star, the make-up effects supervisor, and the costume designer discuss turning the actress into one of the screen’s most iconic witches.
Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions (7:13, HD): composer Danny Elfman discusses his inspirations for the themes in the film and the relative ease with which ideas came to him for this project.
Blooper Reel (5:06, HD)
Promo Trailers (HD): The Lone Ranger, Once Upon a Time, and The Little Mermaid.
DVD Copy of the Movie/Digital Copy Instructions
Bonus Clip: Practical Sets
Not the most compelling narrative, Oz the Great and Powerful is nevertheless an entertaining fantasy adventure featuring some of the most well known characters from literature and films in a newly inspired creation with some sparks of genuine imagination and whimsy. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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