Oz the Great and Powerful (DVD + Digital Copy)
by Director: Sam Raimi
Review by Daniel Dern
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment DVD ISBN/ITEM#: B00C7JGDBW
Date: 23 April 2013 List Price $29.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Fans are often -- and understandably -- anxious when a new movie about a favorite book/series -- or a remake of a favorite movie -- happens. Not to mention during the first time we see the movie, as we wait and hope the movie doesn't do something that offends our sense of the source material.
For example, to name a few: Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, The Hobbit, The Golden Compass, A Princess of Mars ("John Carter"), Green Lantern, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland.
Frank Baum's Oz faces a double challenge: there's fans of the Oz books (by Baum and others), and, of course, the uber-classic Judy Garland etc. movie The Wizard of Oz.
I'm not sure I'd call myself an "Oz fan," but I'm medium familiar with Oz, and will read or at least try Oz-based stuff. Of course, I read the first book as a kid (which, a post that I read a year or so ago, but can't find, argued, isn't that well written). And I read a few other of the Baum and post-Baum Oz books -- my mother had a dilapidated hardcover of The Hungry Tiger of Oz, from when she was a kid, and some neighbors had a few others, but I never got rigorous about chasing down more Oz books, in my very-pre-Internet youth. I loved the Return To Oz movie, I felt it was well-done, and, perhaps most importantly, it had the look and feel of the original John R. Neil illustrations for the Oz books. And I've happily read/accumulated a fair number of Oz-related comic books, like Oz Squad, along with several of Eric Shanower's gorgeous original Oz graphic novels. (And I've read Gregory Maguire's Wicked and other Oz prequels, which didn't grab me.) Not to mention Philip Jose Farmer's SF book, A Barnstormer In Oz...
But I'm not an Oz fanatic, just, like I said, a moderate fan.
We went to see the from-Disney film, Oz the Great and Powerful (which I'll abbreviate as "OtG&P"), I thought it was good enough as a movie, and as an Oz rendition; I recommend it without reservations. I feel it does a nice job of not contradicting my sense of official canon and continuity, while adding some degree of new backstory detail.
(Note, my opinion seems higher than many-to-most reviews I've skimmed. As with the Star Trek reboot movie from a few years back, they're probably all correct, but none of what they cavil at bothered me.
We saw it in 3D, not by plan but that's what the theater was doing -- and I felt the 3D was well enough done, adding some value at times, and not making anything worse. Very brief plot summary: OtG&P is the story of how Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, a small-time magician (in the Harry Houdini sense, not the Harry Potter sense) gets from Kansas to the land of Oz, and gets involved in civil war among witches good and bad, moving the sitch up to a clear set-up for the events of The Wizard of Oz. No slippers, ruby or silver; no Tin Man or Scarecrow. Several witches (they're among the protagonists).
Visually, OtG&P is a stunning, lovely movie. It's live action. There's obviously lots of computer animation and other special effects here, but at no time did I have the sense of it being nothing but a pack of CGI (or should that be a pack of graphics cards?) The colors are bright -- even more vivid than the under-rated, under-appreciated Dick Tracy movie.
Like The Wizard of Oz (the movie), OTG&P starts in black and white, only going to color once we get to Oz.
The acting's good enough; like comic book movies and Gilbert & Sullivan, OtG&P doesn't call for subtleties or complexities. The story moves along well. And props to the movie for having Oz inhabitants be racially diverse, done with each population, e.g., the Winkies and Tinkers are both diverse, versus one being Caucasian, etc.
The plot is reasonable, the dialog good. I have no criticisms; Disney held back on the temptation to cutesy this up unbearably, and the movie deserves its PG rating. Of course there's violence, but no excessive blood, nor any sex beyond a kiss or two. Some reviews say this movie is "somewhat darker" than The Wizard of Oz; hard call. Not for most kids under 10, I'd think, but heck, if they've seen Star Wars episodes 1, 2 and 3, they should be able to handle OtG&P.
There's no fair way to compare this to The Wizard of Oz. But (like Return to Oz), Oz the Great and Powerful is a reasonable companion to the film it prequels, worth watching, in my opinion. Not necessarily more than once (versus, say, Return to Oz, which I am ready to take out my DVD and re-watch.)