Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Oz the Great and Powerful

Disney has a long karmic history with the land of Oz. The company wanted to be the first to make an Oz film but the title slipped though their mouse-gloved hands and went to MGM in a 1939 classic. Then in 1955, they secured the rights to the remaining Baum books and planned the live action"The Rainbow Road to Oz"only to have  the project abandoned. In 1985, they tried once more with "Return to Oz" but the film failed at the box office .

Through my research, it almost seems a Emerald City curse.

Lo and behold, in 2013 they have it right with their latest "Oz the Great and Powerful" directed by monster-meister Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead Spider-Man)

This version which is actually a prequel that takes place twenty years earlier, is so affectionately rendered with generous tributes to the 1939 classic that it is impossible to dismiss. Raimi even gave the black and white prelude monaural sound to echo the original film.

James Franco ( whose laughing eyes seems to be everywhere on film these days) plays Oscar Diggs, a small time magician and con man who is always trying to find an angle. Oscar lives in a Kansas dustbowl. He is pursued by a circus strongman and escapes in a hot air balloon only to be swept up in a tornado. Picket Fences attack him like teeth and the action whizzes by in trademark Raimi fashion--- staccato bursts---as in "The Evil Dead"

Needless to say Oscar tumbles  in the technicolor land of Oz complete with a yellow brick road. Oscar meets the bewitching vixen  Theodora (Mila Kunis) who is ravishing in red. In her wide velvet hat,  Kunis recalls something of Veronica Lake or Lauren Bacall.

She is a true Oz fatale.

Some humor ensues due to the role of Franco who almost appears stoned with good fortune---or simply stoned. You half believe that he'll get the munchies in Munchkinland by the end of the production.

But no matter.

Oscar learns that he is fated to rule Oz and Theodora imposes her carnal incarnadine charms on Oscar, wanting to be Queen. But along the way, Oscar becomes smitten by the goody two shoes Glinda.

Theodora is consumed by bitters.

Under the influence of another sister Evanora, (Rachel Weisz) Theodora  takes a bite of one witchy green apple.

Abruptly, with a jolt of emerald vitriol, The Wicked Witch of the West is born. The effect is as scary as "Drag Me to Hell" because it works on the power of suggestion by revealing a single silhouette as iconic to us as a jack o lantern on a first Halloween.

Kunis is wonderful as the witch you love to hate. Although it is futile to out-sweep the legendary Margaret Hamilton, Kunis has a voluptual  joy for doing bad for badness sake with some of Hamilton's  cranky power. Who cares about the other two witches. Three's a crowd; Mila Kunis is endlessly thrilling with eyes of jade Envy.

Oz devotees might be adverse to this production, thinking it a shallow CGI show of smoke and mirrors, with no real attention of the man behind the curtain. But fear not. "Oz" succeeds despite its restrictions, namely the green shade of The Wicked Witch was not to be used, nor was the circular pattern of the yellow brick road. Off limits as well, was the appearance of Ruby Slippers as was The Wicked Witch's chin mole that Margaret Hamilton made famous.

The final scene of Oscar as The Wizard, as a projection in thin air and smoke is a poetic recognition of faith as magic, not only in matters of belief, but also in the act of enjoying film.

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