The 1939 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is one of Hollywood's most treasured films and a significant part of the history of cinema; you'll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't seen it at some point in their lifetime, be it as a kid or dying old man. Sam Raimi's prequel to the story seems like it has all the right boxes ticked beforehand; a unique premise, a great cast and a vibrantly crafted depiction of Oz itself. Unfortunately, those ticks simply aren't enough to save it from the problems it manages to create for itself.
During 1905 Kansas, circus performer Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is whisked away in a violent hurricane to whymsical, colourful world of Oz, where he becomes tangled up in an ancient prophecy that pits him down as the foretold saviour of the land from the tyrannical Wicked Witch. His one chance of redemption rises from the challenge, leading him on a quest to save Oz from the overflowing evil and prove he can be more than just a good man - he can be a great one.
Oz brings back memories of Tim Burton's god awful Alice in Wonderland from 2010 when it comes to the visual effects: a huge emphasis is put toward CGI and motion capturing to sculpt the vibrant fictional landscapes, from the beautifully nostalgic Emerald City to the iconic routes of the Yellow Brick Road. A smart level of visual design has been injected into the aesthetics too; everything is tinted in a black and white vibe and played out in a retro 4:3 aspect ratio until Oz itself floods the screen, truly bringing the colour of the film to life. The live action sets, props and actors are blended with the visual effects seamlessly, creating a film that looks fantastic throughout. In IMAX everything looks even better, but perhaps the tacked on 3D wasn't necessary. Well, the same can be said for any film.
Unfortunately, Oz squanders its unique premise on a storyline that has no ingenuity; everything from start to finish is far too predictable, and when the few twists do come into play they are handled terribly. Simply watching the trailers of this film is likely going to confuse you as to how the Wicked Witch is portrayed, and although I won't spoil the details of her rise to the green skinned, menacing persona, I can tell you that she sucks. There's bags of potential to make her an intimidating and twisted villain but thanks to a piss poor performance and the dreadful motives for the character everything just falls flat. Just to rattle off a few more concerns: the forced romances are rubbish, the monkey sidekick does my head in and there is a huge lack of direction and focus. This in turn damages the overall pacing, with the plot chugging forward slowly and then racing through its final moments with no development or concentration.
The acting is generally okay, but Franco is the only exceptional performer, proving to be funny and likeable even with his character's selfish motives (which admittedly do clash with some of the tones the film tries to force). But when I say the acting is okay, it really is just okay. I'm sure the actors struggled with the average scripting, but even with this in mind the performances are not fantastic. Oz the Great and Powerful is nothing short of a letdown; Raimi and all his crew have taken a great idea and drowned it in a mediocre script, and then attached a title which the project really doesn't live up to.