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Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/11/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/15/2013

Regular visitors to this website have probably read that The Evil Dead was the first videocassette that I rented. (Yes, I meant to write "videocassette".) What I may not have elaborated on is that this purchase began an admiration of director Sam Raimi's work. I followed him through the highs (Evil Dead II) and the lows (For Love of the Game), and I was delighted when Raimi was tapped to direct Spider-Man (which turned into a job for the trilogy). But, Raimi's recent works have been less impressive. Drag Me to Hell did nothing for me, and the trailers for Oz The Great and Powerful didn't look promising. Can someone with Raimi's talent bring the magic back to L. Frank Baum's world?

Oz The Great and Powerful opens at a carnival in Kansas where a magician named Oz (James Franco) has a low-rent show, along with his assistant, Frank (Zach Braff). After finishing a performance, tornado hits the carnival and Oz is whisked away in a hot air balloon. The balloon travels for miles and sets down in a magical kingdom. Oz immediately meets Theordora (Mila Kunis), a witch who explains that he is now in the land of Oz. She states that a prophecy foretold of a great wizard coming to the land and she assumes that Oz is this person. She takes him to the Emerald City, where Oz meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora's sister who is also a witch. They send Oz on a mission to kill the Wicked Witch who has been tormenting them. When Oz meets Glinda (Michelle Williams), the supposedly "Wicked" witch, he realizes that there is a power-struggle happening in Oz and that he must choose sides if he ever hopes to get home.

Oz The Great and Powerful is based on characters and ideas from the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, but it isn't based on any specific book, of which there are 14 in the series (Did you know that?) The movie is also not directly related to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, as Raimi and co. were very careful to steer clear of any specific image which referenced that movie. In essence, this plays as a sequel to The Wizard of Oz, as it works to tell the stories of what occurred in the magical world before Dorothy arrived. Thus, screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire have taken some familiar ideas and created a new story with them. And, in many ways, the story fulfills its mission. We learn how the Wizard arrived in Oz, we learn how the Wicked Witch became wicked and became green, and we learn how the Wizard rose to power. On paper, this probably looked pretty solid.

It's in the execution that Oz The Great and Powerful falls apart. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, the movie is far too long. Raimi is known for hyper-kinetic energy and rapid action, but we don't get much of that here, as many shots in the first half of the film simply go on for too long, despite the fact that Raimi is working with his long-time editor Bob Murawski. Many of these long shots involve the characters walking through green-screen/CG backgrounds and when the shots go on for too long, the illusion of reality begins to break down and everything starts to look fake. The action does pick up in the final act, but this doesn't compensate for the boredom created by the first half of the film. The side-effect of these pacing issues is that this is one film which needs to get to the point. We know where it is going in terms of what needs to happen in order to set up the story of The Wizard of Oz, so dragging things out was a mistake.

Closer examination reveals other flaws in the film. James Franco is very believable as a charlatan carny who dupes people, but when he's called upon to be witty or charming, things go awry, especially when one watches the film knowing that Robert Downey Jr. was the first choice for the role. Despite the fact that this is a big-budget Disney film, it's also a Sam Raimi movie and he jams references to the Evil Dead films in here and we get a very forced cameo by Raimi regular Bruce Campbell. This should be fun, but it's cringe-inducing. The biggest cringe comes in the scene where the Munchkins sing. I realize that this is a parody of the "Lollipop Guild" song and it's meant to frustrate Oz, but it gave me flashbacks to the "goth" scenes of Spider-Man 3 and that's not a good thing. The biggest head-scratcher here is the lack of a wrap-up at the end. In The Wizard of Oz, most everyone who Dorothy meets in Oz is a reflection of someone from the "real" world. We get the same thing in Oz The Great and Powerful, but it never goes anywhere. The fact that Oz lands in a place called Oz is highly suspect, but it's never explained. If I found myself in a place called Mike, there would be some explaining to do.

The idea of showing what happened before Dorothy arrived in Oz is not a new one and millions of people have already witnessed an exploration of this concept in the musical Wicked. So, this raises the question, why not simply make a movie of that show instead of creating this "new" story? Clearly Disney had an agenda here, most of which was an attempt to recreate the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. While Raimi has made a nice looking movie, it could have used a visit to the Wizard himself, as it had no heart, no brains, and didn't have the courage to do anything new.

Oz The Great and Powerful gets blown away on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.33:1 for the opening scenes and 2.35:1 for the remainder of the film and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. This is a very crisp transfer and the colors look fantastic -- some scenes look as if we could walk into them. However, the clarity of the image also makes the special effects lose some of their luster. Even in this 2D version, the image has a nice amount of depth and the level of detail is very impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. Please note that the 7.1 track is not the default track and that this must be changed manually. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track. The stereo effects are very good, often alerting us to sounds coming from the right or left of the screen, and they show good separation. The surround effects are excellent as well, and they are used appropriately and to good effect. The subwoofer action brings true presence to the action scenes. Overall, a great technical package.

The Oz The Great and Powerful Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. "Walt Disney and the Road to Oz" (10 minutes) explores how Walt Disney wanted to make his own version of The Wizard of Oz, but it never got off the ground. We see some concept art for that project. "My Journey in Oz by James Franco" (22 minutes) has the actor interviewing Raimi, Kunis, Braff and Williams. This includes some on-set footage and Franco is actually able to get some good responses. (Of course, this could have been better if Kunis hadn't been in make-up.) "China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief" (5 minutes) explores the effects used to create the character, which is one of the more interesting aspects of the film. "Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz" (11 minutes) examines the look of the film, showing how the landscapes, sets, and characters were designed. We see the special effects make-up used in the film in "Mila's Metamorphosis" (8 minutes). "Mr. Elfman's Musical Concoctions" (7 minutes) offers an interview with the composer who discusses his work on the movie. The final extra is a 5 minute reel of BLOOPERS.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.