In a time where sequels and prequels to cherished franchises are rife and so easily condemned to failure, director Sam Raimi deserves kudos for this splendid romp of theatrics.
Oscar is a traveling magician in Kansas, he is no hero and only dreams of wealth and fame. When his womanising antics gets him in trouble, he flees in his hot air balloon only to be snared into a tornado. Deposited in the Land of Oz, he is heralded by three witches as the prophesied Wizard of Oz, king of the land. But as the witches squabble over his unremarkable nature, can he rise above himself and save the land?
Like I say, we have had a lot of prequels and sequels (and remakes!) trying to cash in on our childhoods, and while I was never completely sold on the original Wizard of Oz, I can see here that a lot of effort had been made to make this harmonious with the classic. Sam Raimi has put his substantial talents towards making a bright, fun and sometimes dark family film. It is significantly better than… oh, shall we say… Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland…?
I say that because there is a lot of computer generated imagery here. A lot. In fact Oscar’s first sights of Oz are almost 100% computerised, which made me a little sad… I understand that Oz is a magical otherworld, but I still find myself pining for physical creations. It does mature once we reach the Emerald City and more human characters appear though, and I should say that CGI or no the creativity and design work are wonderful.
The film starts out, of course, in the glorious sepia tones of the real world, yet Raimi extends the contrast with the colourful Oz by having our world shot in “full frame” and not wide screen! Hopefully people get this and aren’t rushing out the theatre to complain the projection’s broken!
The acting is good, James Franco as Oscar is a joy to watch, playing a talented but cowardly man without hamming it up completely. His friends are fun and full of life, especially the little China Girl. The Wicked Witch herself is also a joy to watch on the big screen, one of many defining characteristics that proves Sam Raimi is out to make an authentic homage to the classic original.
Having said that, one oddly missing element are songs, in fact the film makes a point of cutting its one and only music number short! Some fans of the original might find this sad… I however don’t mind.
So I enjoyed it for the most part! A lot more than I expected to, maybe a little heavy on the CGI and the adults in the audience will see a lot of cliches, but by the end you will be loving it as a theatrical romp with both light-heartedness and scary thrills.
Additional marshmallows: I don’t make a habit of commenting on 3D so much nowadays, but here it was effectively used; it didn’t ruin the film (I’m sure 2D showings will not lose out) some of the best 3D parts are during the 4:3 “full frame” scenes in Kansas.