Off to Oz on a Saturday afternoon
Yesterday the kids, Christine and I went out to enjoy "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Judging by headlines about the box office smash it turned out to be, we weren't alone. Well, what else is there to do on a lazy Saturday in March but head off to Oz in a tornado for a little 3D fun?
This is the story of how the Wizard of Oz got to be you know, the man behind the curtain. James Franco played the title character, starting out in a sepia-toned black and white, narrow-screen, just like we're used to seeing Kansas at the beginning of the original "Wizard of Oz" movie.
He plays a master of illusion at a traveling circus circa 1906, which is quite fun with its freak shows and strong man and all that. He (Oz, not the strong man) has big dreams of striking it rich, winning the affections of a beautiful girl (or maybe more than one) and becoming famous.
After a brief hot air balloon ride, he winds up sucked into a tornado. Here the 3D really pops as wooden fence posts splinter sharply through the balloon basket where he cringes like a Cowardly Lion, coming out of the screen and making the audience wince. The black-and-white actually heightens the drama of tornado, seeming to highlight every sharp wooden splinter.
Then we emerge in a widescreen, colorful interpretation of Oz. As happens in Oz, he meets witches, good and bad, joins up with a few oddball characters that remind him of folks back home and completes a quest to find out what was in him all along.
One crowd-pleaser was a little girl made of porcelain who accompanies the wizard. I heard people behind me saying, "She's so cute!" His other companion is winged, talking monkey voiced by Zach Braff (the guy you assumed you wouldn't have to listen to anymore after Scrubs ended). No one behind me commented on his cuteness.
I enjoyed the movie overall, though there was something about it that didn't quite work. The plot was a little thin and there were times when it felt like the characters were just spinning their wheels waiting for it to be time for the big showdown.
The casting was a little off too, in my humble opinion. Braff, for example, seems to be channeling Billy Crystal or something. It was distracting because he seemed to be more from New York than from Oz.
Franco has a certain crinkly-eyed charm, but he looks like he would be more at home behind the wheel of a Trans Am or a smoke-filled van than wearing a top hat in Oz. Mila Kunis as a witch (you decide whether she's good or wicked), wasn't bad but wasn't great either. She seems to compensate for not having much range by shouting a lot. The other problem is I always associate her voice with Meg from Family Guy.
But I don't ask for much from a movie these days. I didn't doze off like I do most of the time, so that's something.
At the end of the movie, some members of the audience I was with felt compelled to clap. I never do that because the actors aren't there to hear me, but I took it as a good sign.
The only time I would clap would be when the death star blows up in the original Star Wars, and that would only be back in 1977.
Dan's Grade: B
P.S.: if you're hungry for more Oz fun and you've never checked it out, get your hands on a DVD of Return to Oz from the 1980s. I love it.