Oz the Great and Powerful

Year: 2013
Studio: Disney
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Mitchell Kapner/David Lindsay-Abaire/L Frank Baum
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Tony Cox, Bruce Campbell

Years ago, crawling around the forests of Tennessee in the middle of the night making Evil Dead , I wonder if Sam Raimi ever thought he might be a digital hack sellout for hire for a major studio. Sad to report, but that's what he is here.

Oz the Great and Powerful is so without spirit or heart it's just an exercise in pushing pixels. The sweeping vista over the mythical land when magician Oscar Diggs (Franco) goes from the small-screen monochrome to rich widescreen colour is the sales pitch of the movie – it looks beautiful and no stone is left unturned to bring you the most visually rich experience Raimi and his army of CGI engineers can manage, but when it comes to casting and plot, someone was out to lunch.

Franco is a good actor in the right role, but he hasn't the presence or force of personality to portray reluctant hero Oz, and a host of accomplished actresses playing the witches of the land are given short shrift by an asinine script and pat characterisations.

In the early 1910s, Oscar is a cut rate magician at a travelling circus surviving on pennies with his doltish assistant (Braff), taking advantage of the country girls he meets and determined to make something of his life.

When a tornado and a hot air balloon rescue him from the circus strongman (and jilted lover) and sweeps him off to the mythical land, Oz finds Thedora (Kunis) – beautiful, innocent and ripe for seduction. When he does his usual trick (as close to banging her and not calling back as a kids' film can get), she becomes enraged at his rejection, turning into the Wicked Witch of the West that we all loved in the immortal Margaret Hamilton.

In another clear sign of the studio's and Raimi's intentions and lack of respect for the original film, everything about Kunis' costume and makeup mirrors Hamilton's (from the nose to the pointy hat) except for the heaving cleavage.

After Thedora and her sister Evanora (Weisz) have warned Oz about the evil witch who lives in the dark wood, he and the not-very-memorable sidekicks he's picked up find Glinda (Williams) instead to be benevolent and kind, telling Oz the story about how the sisters are holding the land in an iron grip of oppression.

The stage is set for the showdown as Thedora – driven by vengeance – and her sister attack Glinda and her people and Oz has to step up in very cinematic fashion, get over his selfishness and become the great man he wants to be by defending the townspeople using the emerging technologies of his time from back home. In fact there's quite a sense of the civilised man laughing at the backward natives in cargo cult fashion as he uses cinema and fireworks to wage the battle.

It's just a shame the whole thing is such a studio construction without an ounce of the inimitable soul of its 1939 predecessor.

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