Watch 'Oz' for its boggling effects, not for storytelling

By Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comMarch 8, 2013 

At 74 years, Oz the Great and Powerful may have set a record for the longest span between an original and a prequel. It's not surprising that few have attempted to do prequels or sequels based on the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Equaling perfection is difficult.

The Wizard of Oz is the first movie I ever saw. It was probably 1955 and I was 6 years old. The film was in its last trip through the theater circuit before becoming a popular annual TV event.

My mom took me to the Mor Theater in Umatilla and plunked me down on a rock hard seat, and it blew my mind. My love of movies was born on that day. I have always been grateful to my movie-loving mother for that introduction.

Catching The Wizard of Oz on TV isn't close to as wonderful as seeing it on a giant screen. Maybe that's the appeal here. Despite the negatives, I'm recommending you see the Oz the Great and Powerful. The recommendation is not because of its storytelling excellence. It's a bomb and at best hovers somewhere around mediocre.

Based on the first of L. Frank Baum classic books, Oz the Great and Powerful casts James Franco as Oz. He's far from great and powerful. Oz is a mediocre magician and womanizer traveling with a circus. On a blustery Kansas day, Oz ends up in a hot air balloon that gets caught up in a tornado. It transports him to the Land of Oz, where legends predict a great wizard will fall from the sky and save the people from a wicked witch.

You learn about the history of Oz, how Oz became the wizard, the wicked witches and their relationship to the good witch Glinda.

Starring with Franco are Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zack Braff, Billy Cobbs and Tony Cox. Considering the all-star cast -- one Oscar, a bunch of Golden Globe wins and a dozen nominations from both -- the acting is mediocre.

Back to my recommendation. You should see Oz the Great and Powerful for the same reason you saw James Cameron's Avatar and for the same reason I love the original Oz. Oz is a not-to-be-missed big screen experience. This is especially true in 3D. The Land of Oz -- as mimicked from the 1939 original -- has out-of-this world colors but less-than-extraordinary creatures.

Director Sam Raimi (the first three Spider-man films) and his team of effects experts boggle your mind with the incredible effects and superb 3D. The opening credit sequences are magnificent and the black and white 3D and the trip to Oz in the balloon is fun.

Also of note is the Land of Oz. It's an extraordinary place.

What Raimi and his until-now-excellent screenwriters Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) and David Lindsay-Abaire (the Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole) aren't able to do what the original movie did so wonderfully is give their 3D movie characters three dimensions. At the end of The Wizard of Oz, you deeply loved Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. Franco, Williams, Kunis, Weisz and the others are stuck with ho-hum characters uttering cookie-cutter lines in a paint-by-numbers story.

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Billy Cobbs, Tony Cox,

Bruce Campbell, Joey King, Abigail Spencer

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars

Rated PG for some mature themes and scary images. It is playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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