Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Sam Raimi
FILM OF THE MONTH MARCH 2013
It seems to have been somewhat of a tough few years for Sam Raimi’s directorial career. Especially in 2012 as he saw his Spiderman trilogy re-booted to mass acclaim and a re-boot that firmly placed Josh Webb‘s ‘The Amazing Spiderman‘ top of the web slinging hero charts once and for all.
This film then seems an attempt by Raimi to re-launch himself as a visionary in the world of cinema once more and it’s completely not what you would expect from the man that brought us ‘The Evil Dead’
The film centres on Oz (Franco) a lowly magician who works in a travelling circus in Kansas seducing women and attempting to con his audiences. Needless to say Oz ends up in a hot air balloon that gets whisked up into a tornado and flies into the land of Oz. Upon his arrival he meets Theodora (Kunis) a Witch from the Emerald City who tells Oz of the great prophecy her dead Father once foretold. The prophecy states that a Wizard baring the name of the kingdom will come from the skies and free the land from the clutches of the Wicked Witch. Oz obviously not a Wizard lies and attempts to scam his way into the hearts and minds of the people of Oz in order to get his hands on the piles of gold promised to him. However Theodora’s sister Evanora who is also a Witch (Weisz) seems unimpressed by Oz and challenges him to kill the Wicked Witch before he can lay claim to the throne and the treasure. As Oz and his flying monkey butler Finley (Braff) set off on their quest they find out that all is not what it seems in Oz and that the balance of power amongst the Witches is not as straightforward as it appears on a first glance.
Raimi has created something visually stunning here the digital landscapes of Oz are truly fantastic but also remain in that special place that reminds us that this is fantasy. It’s not on a scale comparable to ‘Avatar’ but it’s probably the closest any film has come since to competing on the same level in terms of cinematography.
However, there are huge problems in terms of casting in this film. If you’ve ever seen ‘Family Guy’ it’s incredibly hard to ever really take Mila Kunis seriously. Her voice is just a bit too whiny and she grates upon your ears after a few minutes. Her character Theodora goes through the transformation we see in the trailer, if you’ve seen the original ‘Wizard of Oz’ you’ll know that she becomes The Wicked Witch of the West, the grotesque green skinned and big nosed villain that commands the army of flying monkeys. Kunis was really the wrong choice for the role, she plays Theodora as her good self ok but when she “transforms” she becomes more of a parody than anything else. All the film makers did was paint her green and give her a big nose when they probably should have used motion capture like they did for Braff’s Finley and change her voice so at least that she was scary. She even actually screams the line “I HATE YOU!” which is literally transported from the realms of Seth MacFarlane‘s cartoon. Rachel Weisz as her sister would have been the better choice for the role of Theodora but sadly they chose wrong.
Weisz herself puts in a rather one dimensional performance which is strange considering that she is usually a rather good actress. And James Franco as Oz… his character is like Weisz’s rather one dimensional and so hampers his acting talents. For a man that’s portrayed Alen Ginsburg and James Dean it seems odd that he would choose to appear in this film. Obviously he has come for the payout but it’s sad to see an actor of his calibre stooping a bit lower than he normally should.
Zach Braff is good as Finley the flying monkey butler offering us something of a light relief (if you can call it that). Michelle Williams, who is probably the best actor cast in the whole film, is actually very convincing as Glinda the Good Witch of the South. She looks the spit of Billie Burke from the original film and keeps the story going in it’s rather weak mid-section.
Overall you must remember that this is not a re-boot of a franchise it’s a prequel story and so must be treated as such. Yet, the film feels more like a cheap reworking of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as compared to a tribute or beautiful re-imagining. The opening twenty minutes use the same techniques as the original, characters in Kansas appear in other guises in Oz. And to say it’s cheesy is an understatement for we get smorgasbord of cliches throughout. You can sit back and laugh at this but it doesn’t seem that Raimi and co. set out to make us laugh. It’s intended to be so heartwarming and loving you feel like someone is ramming emotion into your heart with a hammer. To say it’s made by Disney it feels awfully like someone taking that association too far.
Unlike what Josh Webb did with Spiderman, Raimi here has failed to kick start this franchise and leave us wanting more or nothing at all.Disney have already gone to work on commissioning a sequel and that this “sequel” will be a digial re-telling of Victor Fleming’s classic. Raimi has also already distanced himself from this project. He saw how his own established franchise was improved and so attempted to do something similar. Sadly for him it seems that he does not excel in this genre and out of a cast of actors who are all on their day superb (bar Kunis) the film feels like a mis-match of ideas and styles. If you watch football you’ll know that great teams are not forged on having all the star players, in fact when a big list of A-list stars come together they often struggle to work together and shine individually at the same time. Raimi aimed too high and sadly fired under the rainbow instead of over it as he should. Let’s hope they leave Oz alone and we can go on enjoying Judy Garland and co. for many more years to come.