Oz the Great and Powerful
An action-packed spectacle of a prequel, starring James Franco, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis
This prequel to The Wizard of Oz might have been little more than an expensive special effects extravaganza were it not in the hands of a director with as distinctive a visual style and flair for knockabout comedy as Sam Raimi. As with Tim Burton’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland, this colourful 3D fantasy adapted from a children’s classic has enough genuine spectacle and directorial signature to make it something more entertaining than a run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster.
Raimi’s film, also adapted from the original work of author L Frank Baum, tells the story of how the magical land of Oz got its ruler and its wicked witches. As with the 1939 film, Oz opens in Depression-era Kansas where we meet Oscar Diggs, a carnival magician whose lack of morals is offset by his showmanship and charm with the ladies. Taking flight from an outraged strongman in a hot air balloon, Diggs is dragged into a tornado and spat out in Oz, where he reluctantly agrees to rid the land of the tyranny of a wicked witch.
Raimi takes his lead from the original film, shooting the dustbowl opening in black and white and switching to ‘Technicolor’ as the action shifts to the fantasy land, hanging the narrative on the moral lesson about believing in oneself and throwing in a song and dance routine. He also manages to include a few slapstick routines referencing his own films, The Evil Dead most obviously, and there is the customary cameo appearance by Raimi’s old demon-slaying star Bruce Campbell. James Franco is well cast as Diggs and the witches are nicely played by Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, who is an absolute scream. The second half drags a little, but the action-packed climax works well, neatly tying things up and setting the stage for Dorothy’s ruby-slippered adventures.