The highly anticipated The Wizard of Oz prequel directed by Sam Raimi and starring James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis released nationwide yesterday. I was among the throngs of moviegoers hoping to watch a film that captures at least a quarter of the magic of the 1939 original.
The high expectations being brought in by every adult viewer about The Wizard of Oz is the downfall of this film. I don’t think it had a chance of living up to such a cinematic icon. Nonetheless, it was at least entertaining for the children in the audience, lots of little laughs were heard throughout the cinemas. Plenty of silly humor appropriate for the 6 – 12 year old age range but also scary characters including the flying baboons and the evil witch (Drag Me to Hell style). The mise-en-scene (set design, costumes, lighting, etc.) was beautiful but I can’t say that it far exceeded the original. In fact, I think the original, considering its technological restraints, was much more dazzling.
I think the worst aspect of this film, however, was the script. Guess how the wicked witch of the west became so wicked? A man (the wizard) breaks her heart – how original. Reinforcing that ugly women are wicked and unlovable while beautiful women are good and pure. I love Michelle Williams (Glinda) and she does have incredible doe eyes that skillfully disarm scoundrel male characters but I didn’t feel any chemistry between her and James Franco (Oz). The love story aspect between the two felt a little forced, I think the story would have been better without it.
Speaking of Oz, or Oscar Diggs – the rascal magician, he wasn’t developed well enough to understand his motives or garner audience support. James Franco was a little Sheckyesque for my taste full of awkward fake smiles. By the end he was much more dynamic but too little too late.
I know it seems like I am ripping this film to shreds so here are a couple of aspects I enjoyed. Zach Braff as the flying monkey sidekick (Finley) was adorable and funny, definitely an audience favorite judging by my viewing companions. I also loved the tribute to Thomas Edison including historical motion picture devices such as the zoetrope and the Kinetoscope.
Overall, it was entertaining and definitely good for children over six, if they aren’t too sensitive to scary baboons. If you’re a huge The Wizard of Oz fan, you may be disappointed, fair warning. To end on a good note: our favorite Sam Raimi B-movie actor, Bruce Campbell, makes an appearance but will you spot him? It’s like Where’s Waldo, Oz style.