“Oz the Great and Powerful”
Director Sam Raimi may be one of the few people in Hollywood who could
actually pull off a prequel to the iconic classic “The Wizard of Oz”
(1939). Of course, our CGI cinema technology is much improved these days,
and it shows in this 3-D spectacular. But there still must be a compelling
story to add substance to the style, and, fortunately, the screenplay and
the acting are up to the challenge.
Oz (James Franco) actually begins as a carnival magician (the traveling
carnival is suitably named Baum, after the original writer, and such homage
appear throughout). And, as we might expect of a turn-of-the-20th-century
Carney, he teeters on the edge between illusionist and charlatan. He’s a
shameless romancer, as well, and charms the local village ladies just enough
to pique their interest, until he leaves town again. Well, while attempting
to escape from an angry rival suitor, he winds up floating away in the
hot-air balloon, which then careens straight into the tornado, and somewhere
in the eye of the storm, he’s ignobly deposited in the Land of Oz. And
here’s where it begins to strangely resemble an allegory for a preacher.
It seems the people of Oz, though hard-working and loyal and trustworthy,
have lacked a spiritual leader, or “wizard,” since their last one up and
died on them. They’ve all been awaiting the moment when the prophecy is
fulfilled and the new wizard finally arrives, who will not only deliver them
from the clutches of wickedness, but also restore harmony and faith to their
diverse little community.
At first, Oz tries to tell everyone that he’s not the one whom they
expect, but he begins to suspect there might be some side benefits to
allowing the people to believe that he is their long-anticipated wizard.
Like material comfort: a throne, a scepter, a palace, and a treasury, which
may or may not be similar to a study, a pulpit, a robe, a manse, and a
salary. Like the attention of some young, beautiful, available women who
seem charmed by his eloquence. Besides, the place is lovely to behold.
Ah, but everything is not as it appears. The wide-eyed young lady, Theodora
(Mila Kunis, and never mind the irony of her character name), plays the
innocent, but actually has a black heart. She has two sisters, one of whom,
Evanora (Rachel Weisz), is beautiful but evil, and the other of whom, Annie
(Michelle Williams) is also beautiful, and seems to be good, but she also
sees Oz for who he really is. She’s not really impressed with pulling
doves out of handkerchiefs, although she’s not averse to some
smoke-and-mirror routine of her own. What she really does is encourage him
to use what gifts he has, including rhetoric, energy, leadership, charisma,
and yes, sleight-of-hand bordering on deception, to generate among the good
folks a genuine enthusiasm, and a belief that together they can overcome
their difficulties, and intimidate the nay-sayers into slinking away and
looking somewhere else to parlay their doom and gloom. Yes, the real calling
of The Wizard of Oz is to stir up faith, courage, and perseverance in the
land, with precious few resources except, well, his own resourcefulness.
What a trip. We have the return of the flying baboons, the good witch in the
white bubble, the yellow brick road, the proto-projected image, fireworks
and fog, the green evil witch on a broom, and new wisecracking sidekicks.
And it’s all done with such pizzazz and panache and finesse that we enjoy
ourselves despite the willing suspension of disbelief. Or maybe even because
As in the original, some of the scenes may be intense for small children.
But this is unique 3-D adventure is one the whole family can enjoy, where
universal familiarity with the original just makes it that more enjoyable.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,