Oz the Great and Powerful
A 3D Treat

Any movie inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is immediately behind the eight ball because the definitive film version already exists.  It’s impossible to think of Oz without visualizing the beloved 1939 Judy Garland classic, despite the fact that there have been many versions since.  The latest attempt is Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, which takes the never-before-tried approach of telling the story of how the Wizard first found himself in the land that shares his name.  It’s the Wizard’s origin story, so to speak, and it’s gloriously filmed and quite entertaining.

The Wizard’s real name is Oscar Diggs, a magician and womanizer working for a traveling circus in Kansas.  While escaping from the wrath of a jealous husband, the man known as Oz and his hot air balloon are caught in a tornado and whisked away to the fantastical Land of Oz.  There he meets Theodora, a witch who believes Oz is the Wizard from the sky that was prophesied to come down and rid the land of the wicked witch.  She takes him to meet her sister, Evanora, who tells him of the riches that await him as king, a title he’ll hold only after he defeats the wicked witch.

Michelle Williams as Glenda in Oz the Great and PowerfulJourneying down the yellow brick road towards the dark forest, Oz is joined by a couple of odd companions: a flying monkey named Finley and a living porcelain doll.  Together they reach the dark woods and confront the third witch, Glenda, who informs them that they have been deceived and that Evanora is actually the wicked witch.  She introduces Oz to the loyal people of, well, Oz, whom she hopes he could storm the Emerald City with and reclaim the land for the people, even though they aren’t really what you would consider prime army material.  The sideshow magician must find enough tricks up his sleeves to fool the world into thinking that he is the all-powerful wizard, even though he knows he’s not.

What stands out most about Oz the Great and Powerful is how gloriously stunning are the visuals.  Director Sam Raimi and his team have created a fantastical foreign land that challenges James Cameron’s Pandora for sheer visual delight.  There is so much to see in the Land of Oz that it is impossible to see everything in one viewing; a fact that I learned when I watched a trailer after getting home and finding animals hidden in the rock cliffs that Oz and Glenda float over at one point; a detail I missed when watching the sequence at the screening.  I have never been a big fan of the new 3D technology, but this is one movie in which I would absolutely recommend watching in that format.  The movie uses the technology to truly add something to the film, rather than just adding a few bucks to the admission ticket.

The movie dazzles immediately with a remarkable opening credit sequence and then tells the opening Kansas sequence is black and white, same as the 1939 film did.  To compensate for the fact that simply transitioning from black and white to color when we reach Oz would not be as impressive today as it was in 1939, the movie also tells the Kansas sequence in a tighter aspect ratio.  This allows the world of the film to literally expand when we reach Oz, creating an effect that at least partially recreates the wonder the earlier film’s initial audience must have felt.

For the most part, the story also lives up to visuals.  Telling the origin story of not only the Wizard, but also the Wicked Witch of the West, the movie does an excellent job of telling its own story, while still managing to act as a near-perfect prequel to the 1939 classic.  Trying as I might, I am unable to come up with any inconsistencies between the two films, beyond the obvious and unavoidable ones, such as the omission of the ruby slippers to which Disney does not own the rights.

While providing plenty of whimsy, humor, and cute CGI supporting characters to keep the little ones happy, Raimi still manages to tell a story that is fun for adults, too.   The witches are truly wicked—not just comically so—and the legions of flying baboons are terrifying.

Oz the Great and Powerful may not be the instant classic that its ancestor was, but it is nevertheless a remarkably filmed and entertaining movie that is sure to delight fans on its way to becoming the first big blockbuster of 2013.

Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG for “sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.”  There are some jokes that are more aimed towards adults, but they should go right over younger viewer’s heads.  There are also some good scares in the film, usually involving the flying baboons.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Oz the Great and Powerful.