Oz the Great and Powerful: Bang or Bust?
“The Wizard of Oz” is the most-watched film of all time and it is definitely one of the most famous in history, according to the Library of Congress. For many Americans, especially older ones, it occupies a special place in cultural memory, right up there with baseball and apple pie.
So when Disney announced they were making a 3D, computer-generated imagery-filled prequel to the film, heads were certainly turned. “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which opens Friday, will be under some serious scrutiny.
Why even bother with such a risky venture? Industry insiders have long been curious to see whether the new “Oz” repeats the successes of 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” or flops tremendously like 2012’s “John Carter.” But fears must have been at least partially calmed because no matter how good or bad the film turns out to be, it will come with the Oz name attached. Granted, this didn’t help 1985’s “Return to Oz” much, but it would be hard to make an Oz-related movie much worse.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is the brainchild of screenwriter Mitchell Kapner, and Sam Raimi of the “Spider-Man” trilogy is directing. He is reunited with the genius “Spider-Man” actor James Franco who stars as Oz — or Oscar Diggs, as he’s known back in Kansas.
Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis also star as the story’s three witches. Glinda the Good Witch will be played by Williams, while Kunis will recreate Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West. Weisz will play Evanora.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is the story of a small-time magician with a traveling circus who’s whisked away to the magical Land of Oz, whose residents believe he’s a great wizard come to save them from the tyrannous Wicked Witch as prophesied, according to the movie’s website.
Trouble is, not everyone believes the trickster is the great wizard, Weisz’s Evanora least of all. Aided by Glinda the Good Witch, Oscar Diggs must convince the Land of Oz of his authenticity and save the realm in the process. As he lives the journey, Diggs must question his values and decide just what kind of man he’d like to be.
Franco wasn’t Raimi’s first choice for the fast-talking Diggs. Raimi approached both Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp for the role before coming to Franco, according to an article in the Hollywood Reporter. Role choice is not the only thing which didn’t go exactly as planned.
As the film was being developed, the producers discovered Warner Bros. owned the rights to the original “Oz” and none of the movie’s iconic images could be used in the new picture, according to another article in the reporter. No yellow brick road, no shimmering emerald skyline, no chin mole on the Wicked Witch; anything they did had to be sufficiently different from the original picture in order to be considered new.
The end result will certainly be different. Unconstrained by the boundaries of the new picture, Raimi has called his film a “love poem to the Wizard of Oz,” drawing inspiration and some characters from the original film but ultimately intended more as a homage than a strict prequel.
Early reviews have been mixed, but one thing’s for sure: fueled by my love for a classic American tale, I’ll likely be heading to the theaters this weekend to see the next big thing from over the rainbow.