Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff
Oscar Diggs, making a living as a magician in a Kansas circus under the name of Oz, dreams of becoming a great man… until a tornado throws him into a magical country that shares his name – Oz. It is a fantastical kingdom where he is mistaken for the great wizard chosen to defeat an evil witch. Oscar will have to prove that he is more than a mere illusionist…
Sam Raimi prefers not to directly challenge the unmatchable The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939) by telling the story of the world of Oz before Dorothy’s arrival, and by focusing on the most well-known and famous wizard of the literary world. It is a classic story of redemption with an anti-hero swindler learning to put his talents at the service of a greater good.
The director makes good use of 3D (especially after the passage from black-and-white Kansas to the colorful Oz) and manage to reinvent a world that, as fantastical as it may be, is well known by most viewers.
The beautiful use of 3D is one of the best aspects of the film, as, despite the energetic performance of James Franco and a high quality supporting trio (Williams, Weisz and Kunis as the three witches), the plot is quite predictable. Oz, in fact, states his goal from the beginning: to become a great man rather than a good man. However, the people he meets along his adventure will repeatedly tell him that the greatness he wants to obtain (with his swindles) will not be enough to make him happy, as the most important thing is to believe (and most of all to make people believe) what is seemingly impossible.
That’s the movie — nothing more. It doesn’t even bother to delve into the mythology that the adventure is based on; the people of Oz are confused about who is and is not good, and even the geography of this wonderful word seems to be overly simplified with the short distances between places removing the feeling of the quest.
It is probable that these details will be noticed more by adult viewers than by children, who will certainly enjoy the linear plot and Raimi’s objectively brilliant storytelling (which makes sure to leave a door open for a possible sequel).
The movie manages to make the most of the age it describes — the beginning of the 20th century — when scientific discoveries (cinema, fireworks, a bit of glue) could easily be mistaken for magic. Thanks to these bits of “magic” the illusionist Oscar Diggs becomes the real “savior” of Oz.
The theme of the movie: “Believe… it doesn’t matter if what you believe in is false”, conveys an ambiguity that the positive transformation of the main character does not resolve, especially in a world like ours where most people would rather believe in a well meant lie than risk their life for a real and reasonable cause.
Problematic elements: some scenes may be upsetting for very young children.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to different magazines and web-sites about cinema and television.