Saturday, March 23, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Greatness is equal parts power and simplicity.

Luke must blow up the Death Star. Rocky must win the fight. (Or go the distance! No one's ever gone the distance with Creed...) With Michael Corleone, it comes down to "That's my family, Kay. That's not me."

Simple. Powerful.

Great.

1939's fourth best movie, The Wizard of Oz, was also powerful in its simplicity, and simple in its power:

"You must follow the yellow brick road."

You can have munchkins, you can have flying monkeys, you can have witches and wizards, you can have all kinds of damn things in your movie, but if the plot premise is simple--

Follow. The yellow. Brick. Road.

--then you're golden.

Simplicity, of course, is hard, and that explains why Oz the Great and Powerful is so mediocre.

It starts simple, but as its 130 minute running time unfolds -- the original got the job done in 103 -- the plot gets more and more complex until it finally collapses in a knot.

We begin with James Franco as a carnival huckster who dates women but does not marry them. He's a bit of a cad. And with that, you know we're not in Kan -- ahem, 1939 anymore. The themes of this movie skew older than the original. This is a movie about fidelity. (Yikes.)

Soon enough, Franco is chased by a jealous lover onto a hot air balloon, with which he gets pulled into a tornadic vortex and, shortly, the magical land of Oz.

There he meets one of the famous witches of Oz. She's a good witch named Theodora, and she's played by Mila Kunis.


Within moments, Theodora falls in love with Oz.

That's right. Within moments. Here's the reason it happens:

The writers (two guys named Mitchell and David) want Franco's caddishness -- and his overcoming of it -- to be the central theme of the story. Therefore they want to show how he's a cad at the beginning -- he devastates poor Theodora -- but becomes a reliable, devoted lover at the end -- he comes back to rescue Glinda (played by Michele Williams.)

And that's fine. But it means Theodora has to fall in love with Oz right quick, which comes off as highly inauthentic.

And it signals that theme is in the driver's seat of this movie. Always a precarious situation.

Eventually Rachel Weisz is introduced as Evanora, another witch, and the first of the evil ones. When Oz abandons Theodora -- because she's creepy! -- our girl Theodora turns evil too.

So now it's Theodora and Evanora against Oz and Glinda.

There's a final battle at the end, and blah blah blah the good guys win.

In between there's lots of complicated crap, including a munchkin named Knuck, a tinker named Master Tinker, and a china girl (not chinese; she's made of porcelain) named... um, China Girl.

The problem is that there's just too much stuff going on, which is a symptom of early draft-itis. This is not surprising; the concept of Oz the Great and Powerful is a compelling one, and it's mildly surprising it took someone seventy-some years to come up with it. Great concepts, if not protected by their creator, tend to get rushed into production faster than weaker concepts. Often to their detriment.

An indication of how compelling the concept is can be found at the box office. Oz is killing it, money-wise.

Which is great for Oz and great for Disney.

But ultimately The Great and Powerful Oz is a poor successor to the classic 1939 film, which was itself an improvement on the 1902 novel.

We peaked in '39 with this story.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 52/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 55/100