3:38 p.m., April 2, 2013

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Keeping to classic style while making it new


“Oh, they would never remake it,” they said. “Never in a million years would they touch one of the greatest films of all time,” they boasted. Well, they never said anything about a prequel. Ha, loophole makes a check mate. Just be proud the finished product wasn’t a total defecation on the original.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you can assume “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel to the classic “Wizard of Oz,” yellow brick road and all. This story told the story of how exactly the Wizard of Oz came to Oz and ended up ruling over Oz. Ah, brain freeze—wait a moment while I gather myself.

Much like before

The film began in a black-and-white, box-form Kansas a la 1905. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) was a greedy, selfish, two-bit illusionist who treated women like objects and his friends like monkeys. If it weren’t for his charming outer layer, his inner qualities would make him a detestable character as opposed to a sketchy one.

Soon after escaping the clutches of the strong man carnie, he was whisked off to Oz via a tornado. The letterbox format and black-and-white color seamlessly transformed into a wide-angle, vibrant Oz filled with shape-shifting birds, musical plants, color-changing horses and, as we know, witches.

The first to greet Diggs was Theodora (Mila Kunis), who had the biggest red hat and a surprisingly plain role. Needless to say, Diggs quickly charmed her, causing her to fall hard and him to realize the mistake he made.

In the Emerald City, Diggs was told by the second witch, Evanora (played brilliantly by Rachel Weisz), that he would be made King of Oz if he could fulfill the prophecy and kill the Wicked Witch. The city was given an astounding CGI makeover but with plenty of great costume work to retain much of the nostalgia. This feeling persisted throughout Diggs’ journey to the dark forest and the Wicked Witch’s home. Clever use of 3D made the foreground seem stunningly real and the background looked like a beautifully painted backboard just like the backgrounds the original used.

Michelle Williams—also seen in the beginning as Diggs’ love, Wanda—played the third witch, Glenda the Good, and just like the starlets of old, she had a sweet and innocent disposition, both physically and behind the eyes. She invoked a young Marilyn Monroe. Something tells me she should take advantage of that one day.

Adding some flair

What made this movie great despite some distinguishable flaws was director Sam Raimi turned what could’ve been an easy nostalgia-cash-grab into something entirely his own. His unique and fun use of camera work and sound effects made this a noticeable Raimi film, and his experience with visual effects completely transformed and expanded the world of Oz. It will be hard to watch either of the films and not picture elements from the other.

But he didn’t make the film reliant on cheap, constant references to carry the story. He created his own clever characters to provide humor and occasional tenderness, which helped the film stand on its own two feet. There were references here and there, but they worked within the context, and sometimes were only a blink long, making them more special.

However, no matter how well and good all it was, one big flaw may divide many moviegoers: the treatment of the Wicked Witch. Soon after her transformation, it was clear her backstory was far more rewarding than the payoff, which was a less love-to-hate story and more angry-my-super-sweet-16-girl story. She also took a back seat to the other villainous role, which somewhat diminished the legacy of the character. She just wasn’t the same when she was not chasing dogs.

Despite that seemingly egregious mistake, there was a lot both to marvel and respect about this new entry. Whimsical, funny, vibrant, adventurous and, above all, respectful, “Oz” took away my previous crown beset upon “Jack the Giant Slayer” as the appropriate fable treatment. But let’s just leave it at this: I can handle only so many Munchkins in so many movies.


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"OZ the Great and Powerful" official site

"OZ the Great and Powerful" on IMDb