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By Daniel Lammin
7th July 2013

Walt Disney always wanted to make a film set in the land of Oz. He'd taken on Neverland, Wonderland and every classic fairy tale he could, but he had never brought to life the great work of American imagination. Problem was, there was already an Oz film, and one so formidable that the idea of following in its ruby-slippered footsteps was clearly folly. Cut to today, and after the unexpected success of their live-action 'Alice in Wonderland' in 2010 (particularly unexpected considering how awful the film is), Disney turned their eye back to Oz, cast their fears aside and put together a "prequel" to 'The Wizard of Oz' with Sam Raimi at the helm... and, just like 'Alice', forced this classic tale into a film so actively trying to be anything other than the material on which it is based.

'Oz: The Great and Powerful' isn't as much of a train wreck as 'Alice', if only because its flaws are more laziness than aggressively atrocious. Exploring the origins of the arrival of the Wizard to Oz, it pits moron magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) against evil witch sisters Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis), his only allies the Good Witch Glinda (Michelle Williams), a talking monkey Finlay (Zach Braff) and a bunch of irritating villagers. The screenplay is pretty lacklustre, something that is reflected across the board in the performances. The only one who emerges dignity intact is Braff, and he isn't even on-screen. The backstory for the wizard feels tired and overused (selfish man realises his potential and becomes better man by saving others), and as far as origin stories go, the legendary Wicked Witch of the West deserves much better than this. Raimi does his best, injecting the film with moments of flair, such as the black-and-white opening, and the special effects. Though far too reminiscent of 'Alice', the effects are lovely to look at, especially during the finale, but the story is so weak and the stakes are so bland that even they can't make the film work. There's almost a conscious disregard for the Oz mythology from L. Frank Baum's book, and an uncomfortable desire to be as close to the classic MGM musical as copyright will allow.


Of course, adults aren't the intended audience for 'Oz: The Great and Powerful', and the film is gunning to attract the kids, so to a certain degree, it needs to be judged on those terms. I doubt this would set their imaginations on fire, though. At two hours, the film is conspicuously too long, it moves at a sluggish pace, and kids are discerning enough to see that there's very little originality here, with too much of the film feeling like the best bits of better films. On second viewing, though, I began to see the potential in the project, a better film hidden in there; if only the film knew what it wanted to be in the first place. At the end of the day, the film seems to suffer from laziness and a lack of enthusiasm more than anything. The land of Oz is an incredibly rich source to draw from, and one that will hopefully be returned to in the future with better intentions. 'Oz: The Great and Powerful' doesn't sully that rich source as much as it could have, but I doubt anyone will remember it in a few years.

The film might not be the best, but it certainly looks it on Blu-ray. Disney have afforded 'Oz' an astounding 1080p 2.35:1 transfer, rich in colour and sparkling with high definition clarity. In fact, this 2D transfer looks far better than the film had in its 3D cinema release. Visually, this is a very busy film, and it's easier to take it in now that the fuzziness of badly converted 3D. The transfer is bolstered by an equally impressive DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, with the film's intricate sound design, and Danny Elfman's crazy (yet predictable) score give the speakers a work out. This would be the kind of disc you'd use to demonstrate the advantages of the Blu-ray format - if only the film itself was better.

The screenplay is pretty lacklustre, something that is reflected across the board in the performances.

Now here's the real surprise - the extras on offer here are uniformly excellent. Handsomely produced, they end up being far more interesting than the film they're talking about. 'Walt Disney and the Road to Oz' gives an excellent overview of the studio's relationship with the Oz books, including their excellent 80s fantasy 'Return to Oz', while 'My Journey to Oz, by James Franco' is a half-hour behind-the-scenes with the lead actor, which defies expectations by being a video diary that's actually interesting. In particular, we get to hear Raimi and the team speak candidly about the challenges of making the film and its development. There are also featurettes on the production design, music and characters. This is one of the best packages Disney has offered for one of their live-action films in a long time, and I hope this is the standard we can now expect.

RELEASE DATE: 10/07/2013
RUN TIME: 2h 10m
CAST: James Franco - Oscar Diggs/oz
Mila Kunis - Theodora
Michelle Williams - Glinda
Rachel Weisz - Evanora
Zach Braff - Frank/finley
WRITERS: Mitchell Kapner
David Lindsay-Abaire
SCORE: Danny Elfman
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