Can you believe The Wizard of Oz was released a phenomenal 73 years ago? What furthers the amazement that, despite barely being a theatrical success upon its initial release, it still to this day remains as one of cinema's most delightful and rewatchable cinematic fantasy flicks of which one girl is swept away to another world, full of talking creatures, uplifting singing midgets and wicked witches. It redefined so many aspects of the fantasy world and everything that comes with it, and if anything proved a successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
It's now the 21st Century, and it's only been a matter of time until the story was relived. With the undoubtable success of the original story of Wicked on Broadway, it only proves that the land of Oz is more than welcome in our hearts. Oz: The Great and Powerful takes the story by the horns and ventures back to the very beginning, starting with our very own titular Wizard himself.
James Franco is Oz, a greedy, selfish and self-renowned conman who parades throughout small towns as the "Great and Powerful Oz" to merely fool his audiences into believing he's something that parallels that of his icons, Houdini and Thomas Edison. It's not until an unfortunate encounter in a Kansas travelling circus that has him fleeing in a hot air balloon, thus encountering a raging tornado. Swept in the gust of absolute destruction, he's hurtled into an unimaginable world, crash landing amidst a cornucopia of colour; a wilderness of pure imagination. There, he meets Theodora the Good (played by Mila Kunis), a friendly, dependable witch. Following her to the enormous Emerald City, of which he's been told has been awaiting an almighty Wizard to defeat the Wicked Witch's reign, he's greeted by Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).
To become King, Oz must defeat said Witch, though it proves more difficult than he initially expected. On his way he encounters new friends, discovers a landscape thought only of in dreams and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams), a gleaming beacon of kindness and hope. Together, they venture to free the land of Oz.
Sam Raimi, the director of franchises such as Spider-Man and Evil Dead, helms the tough project of retreading the Yellow Brick Road and introducing it to an entirely new audience. By doing so, he courageously directs a brand new story of Oz and so has free roam in introducing completely new ideas that eventually, and gloriously, tie into the world-famous Wizard of Oz.
A traditional black-and-white opening sets the scene for which Oz is introduced as money-hungry with an impeccable taste for greed, of which Franco suits well. With a Grinch-like cheeky grin and the handsomeness to pull off anything, Oz isn't particularly a character to like. The moment, however, the screen opens up and introduces both him and us to a world full of ingenuity and sheer originality, it leaves you glass-eyed with wonderment. Raimi understands how to dazzle, and does it with confidence. Swooping throughout what feels like a canvas splashed with dozens of colour, flowers bloom into bells as our eyes attempt to adjust to more than one ravishing sight. If Oz: The Great and Powerful was based entirely on how a film looked, this would be a five-star romp worthy of every award under the sun.
Casting decisions are soon questioned with the arrival of Mila Kunis. As dazzling and stunning as she always is, her kindness suits the role of Theodora, but once story progressions are blatant a sense of worry is rife as typical Kunis tendencies are almost off-putting. The same can be said with Franco -- while at times he's perfect for the role, he's over-the-top when he must be subtle, and a few moments when things are troublesome you catch him almost glazing over what must induce a reaction.
Still, with every downfall there's a bonus. Weisz never appears to have more fun than she is playing Evanora, the blatant super-villain of Oz, dressed head-to-toe in enormous attire that'd pin her as Oz's most sought-after showgirl, and Michelle Williams who ultimately defines the word 'angelic', superior in looks and costume to anything Raimi's addition has to offer. Glinda has never looked better -- sorry, Billie Burke.
There's an unfortunate absence of Munchkins but additions of Oz's right-hand man Finley and the adorable China Girl are welcome, even if they can never life up to the expectations of The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow. China Girl is one of the film's greatest achievements in digital effects.
It's landscape is utterly ravishing and its characters are, for the most, great, but obviously this won't live up to the classic Wizard of Oz. But what you have to remember is that nothing will, so for Raimi to attempt something so grand, it's really an effort i can applaud. It's got a half dozen faults but you'll have an enormous amount of fun; whether it's the sight of seeing the Wicked Witch of the West on the big-screen again, the glorifying turn of Williams as Glinda or Weisz as the evil Evanora, or merely seeing the Yellow Brick Road just once more, it's a blast for the entire family.
Verdict: Barely lives up to The Wizard of Oz but Raimi attempts something original, all-the-while taking homage. There are casting decisions that could have easily been fixed but instead it's just something to pick at, but the final product is a fun, mostly exhilarating two-and-a-bit hours that welcomes you, and a 21st Century audience, back to the land of Oz.