While this film comes from the same stable and looks very much cut from the same cloth as Tim Burton’s inexplicably popular Alice in Wonderland, it couldn’t be more different. It’s as bright and as vibrant as that aforementioned film, but has a sense of fun about it and genuine wonder. It doesn’t hurt that it’s directed by Sam Raimi.
Whisked away from the black and white of Kansas to the Technicolor Land of Oz, conman and magician Oscar Diggs (known as, conveniently enough, ‘Oz’), played by James Franco, finds himself proclaimed rightful king of the land who must reclaim his throne by killing the Wicked Witch of the West. If it all sounds a bit familiar…well, it should, as this is essentially a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz. From there on in the film follows a well trodden path, the ne’er do well Oz learning lessons along the way and becoming a better person by the close. There’s nothing especially new or surprising in the whole film, which isn’t a criticism by the way; it’s just the type of film that, despite all its technical bells and whistles, tells a very traditional tale.
But those bells and whistles are spectacular to look at. Raimi, like Ang Lee with Life of Pi or Scorsese with Hugo, doesn’t just use the 3D as an excuse to raise tickets prices. He’s always been a very visual director (from Evil Dead through to his Spiderman trilogy) and just gets the medium of 3D, with sweeping shots across the colourful landscape of Oz and ducking and diving through the environment with a confidence and enthusiasm for all the extra directorial tricks it allows him. And yes, he throws things at the camera from time to time, but it never seems gratuitous, always playful. The Land of Oz itself is a sight to behold; the brightest film you’ll see this year. Eye popping colours, wondrous scenery and fantastical creatures light up the screen and breathe life into this mostly CG world.
The three witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams) all look like they’re having great fun playing around in this world, with Williams’ Glinda coming off the best; a cross between the ethereal nature you’d expect from a good witch but with a modern spin on her personality as well. Think Princess Fiona from the Shrek films and you’re sort of there. The remaining characters are mostly CGI creations but are so well integrated into this world that they don’t seem out of place at all. In fact, the weak link in all of this is Franco, who doesn’t have the acting chops to convincingly pull off the transformation from scoundrel to honest man, and much of the time Danny Elfman’s score does the emoting for him.
As previously stated there aren’t a great deal of surprises in the film, and without a great big battle which seems to be a pre-requisite for a big tentpole blockbuster epic you wonder how the film is going to reach a satisfying conclusion. Thankfully, the film has an ace up its sleeve and puts a nice spin on the Man behind the Curtain façade, which neatly matches up with various plot strands from the 1939 original.
A colourful, vibrant trip that while offering nothing new has a vigour about it that pulls it through the slightly sluggish mid section. It’s fun, funny and always entertaining.
3 and a half stars
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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