Oh my goodness, this is just awful. It’s the prequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) which, since that was based on the first of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, means this is an ‘imagined’ story, in the likeness of the rest. It relies heavily on special effects and a far too overindulgent, and at times outright garish, technicolouresque palette. There is a story but it’s so overtly banal, and the central performance from James Franco as Oz so completely lacklustre, involving naught but him grinning like a Cheshire Cat and delivering his lines with such drab drollery he comes across as being half stoned most of the time (although sadly his father passed away during production, so it isn’t really surprising this is not his finest moment), that replacing a lot of the characters and dreary dialogue with more effects might have actually been an improvement. Though, those same effects that the film relies on so much look absolutely terrible in places, with it painfully obvious the main characters are standing in front of a green screen. It really isn’t good enough, although The Red Dragon viewed the film in 2D, and can only hope it looks more convincing on a 3D projection.
The whole is not helped by the score from Danny Elfman which drones on uninterrupted for pretty much the entire film and must be some of the least original or enterprising work he’s ever done. The look and feel of the film, together with his music, initially evoke bad memories of Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and, to a slightly lesser degree, his ‘Alice in Wonderland’. The whole of the intro appears in black and white, mirroring the beginning of the 1939 film, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, before expanding into full colour and 16:9 widescreen upon arrival in Oz, but it takes a painfully long time to do so. The supporting characters do little but grate, with the exception of a small china doll in the likeness of a girl whose animation and empathetic appearance are one of the film’s few saving graces. In fact all of the female actors, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Joey King as the China Girl, unanimously bring some life and interest to the film, but are not in of themselves enough to make it worthwhile. Some of the real sets that were built to mix in with the computer graphics, also bring something of value to the piece.
The Oz stories were aimed at children of course, and the film might be better enjoyed by younger audiences. Not too young though, as some of the evil characters, such as the flying, screeching baboons, may terrify rather than entertain. Director Sam Raimi fits in a lot of his trademark ‘several things fly into shot at the same time in a loud and abrupt manner’ which, combined with the baboons, may also not be ideal for wee ones. The script sneaks in a bit of a nod to ‘Back to the Future’ and the music makes an acoustic acknowledgement of the fact, see if you spot it should you decide to brave the mire of cerebral boredom that this film will present you with.
The following interview with Mila Kunis is more entertaining than the actual movie.