In the making of the new movie “Oz the Great and Powerful,” director Sam Raimi has kept with the current filmmaking trend and succumbed to the temptation of sacrificing fundamentals only to rely on eye-popping, computer-generated effects.
The movie suffers considerably as a result of its weakness of dialogue, uneven story pacing, indelicate editing, and general miscasting of actors.
Notwithstanding some of its flaws, though, the film did succeed in securing one of the biggest March debuts ever, taking in about $80 million in North America and $70 million abroad.
Still, it is likely that the executives at Disney are going to be feeling jittery in the next few weeks, since film production and the cost of marketing ratcheted up the tally to roughly $325 million.
The movie itself is a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” and it opens with an introductory homage to the 1939 classic by shooting its initial scenes in black and white and by utilizing a smaller than usual square frame.
The film’s lead character is a carnival magician and part-time con artist named Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco), whose friends simply call him “Oz.”
In the same manner that “The Wizard of Oz”’s Dorothy makes the journey from black and white to color, so does Oscar. But his turbulent tornado voyage to the Land of Oz plops him in a place that is not only bursting with color, it has dazzling digital effects and 3-D technology to boot.
After being welcomed as the wizard for whom the town folks had been anxiously awaiting, Oscar finds himself on an excursion in which, as the proverbial reluctant hero, he encounters belligerent beasts, malevolent magic, and a whole lot of wicked witchery.
With regard to casting, Raimi reportedly wanted Robert Downey Jr. to play the lead role in the film, but negotiations apparently fell apart, and the director ultimately tapped Franco. The actor had previously worked with Raimi in the “Spider-Man” series, but unfortunately this time around he seems to have handled his starring “Oz” Oscar role with the same lethargic approach he took in another Oscar role, the one where he co-hosted the Academy Awards.
There is a great deal of interaction that takes place between Franco and some live as well as computer-generated cinematic characters, but he never quite reaches the convincing level. In addition, he falls somewhat short of making the leap from rogue to rescuer, which is central to the plotline.
The movie has a PG rating, but there are scenes that are potentially terrifying for young children including some containing dark foreboding forests, stone-cold witches, and vicious fang-bearing flying baboons.
With footage that seems as if it were shot for an upcoming Disney park ride, some pop-up scares may create 3-D chills for youngsters. In one scene, Good Witch Glinda is chained between two posts while the evil sister witches administer lightning bolt electric shock treatment on her, again not something for impressionable eyes.
To its credit, the movie doesn’t contain excessive violence, gratuitous sex, or needless coarse language that is so often thrown into movies these days. Most children nine years old and up should be able to handle the more intense scenes.
All in all, due to the legendary status of the original “Wizard of Oz,” the bar for “Oz the Great and Powerful” was so unbelievably high, kudos should be given for taking on such a daunting project.
The jury is still out on whether it will be a complete financial success, but its box office take has already been sufficient enough for Disney to green-light a sequel to the prequel.
Then those sticky issues of predictable formula, “on the nose” dialogue, and tech-over-substance can be addressed, and the moviemakers can inch their way a little closer to the classic.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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