Saturday, March 9, 2013
Oz The Great and Powerful
So this morning I strolled down the Yellow Brick Road and revisited the enchanting land of Oz. Much as it was in 1939, the skies are blue, the forests dark and the promise of Emerald City is boundless. While Dorthy and Toto are nowhere to be found, several original characters including the Wizard, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch of the West have joined us on our new journey. And while there are not really any glorious songs to sing, there is magic and adventure and heart all around. The technology of 2013 has managed to imitate the craftsmanship of 1939, and the view from here is most satisfying.
As a child, I owned a set of the Oz books and read several of them, but I have very little recall of them. I don't think this film is based on a specific story from Frank L. Baum, instead it is a bridge from his work to the story told seventy four years ago. This story tells the tale of the Wizard and the witches of Oz in an entertaining variation of the musical version. We learn the Wizards origins in the opening section of the movie, done in homage to the MGM classic by starting in black and white in old Kansas, and widening to a broad screen with a vivid color palate once we reach the land of Oz. Many might criticize modern Hollywood for following the lead of Baum in returning to the world of his imagination. It is often said that Hollywood is bereft of new ideas and is thus destined to strip-mine the past for material. That would be a harsh judgement to render here because the story is in fact original and the characters that we encounter simply operate in a world we think we know but for which the imagination continues to invent background.
There are four distinct characters that move his progress along. Theodora the witch who discovers and falls for Oz, represents the future without Oz growing. The beautiful Mila Kunis is a little young and not given much chance to show any depth in her character. In the long run, we will feel deeply for the impact the wizard ends up having on her. Finley, the talking and flying monkey, represents the need that Oz has to grow as a human being; loyalty and sacrifice demand from Oz, something he is reluctant to give. Many years later we will hear this echoed in the words that Oz bestows on the Tin Man when he wants a heart. This was a really effective CGI character that adds immensely to the entertainment value of the picture. The China Doll is the opportunity for Oz to act on the impulses he has always had, decency and caring, but that he has dismissed as impractical. He knows that he can't do real magic but he can do a world of good if he gives himself a chance. If you don't eventually fall in love with this ceramic CGI creation, there is something wrong with your heart and you better go see the Wizard yourself. Finally, Glinda the Good Witch, is his opportunity to stop being a good time Charley and instead be the good man that he despairs of being at the beginning of the story. Michelle Williams was deft and light in this part. She doesn't sound like Billie Burke, but she comes across as sweet and loving as anyone could want.