One of the most cherished films for nearly everyone who's ever seen a movie is THE WIZARD OF OZ. Made in 1939 this movie still captivates viewers to this day, young and old alike. Sequels have been made over the years but none have captured the magic that the original film did. But the recent release OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL comes pretty darn close.
The film opens like the original, in black and white and in Kansas, where a traveling circus plays to the farmers nearby. Magician Oscar Diggs, known as Oz (James Franco) has brought on a new assistant, just like he does in every new town, by romancing her. The one possible love of his life, Annie (Michelle Williams), has shown up to let him know she's considering a proposal from a local man. Unable to take care of her he does the right thing and encourages her to do so. At about this time the circus strong man, whose wife Diggs romanced as well, heads for his wagon with intent to kill. A quick escape in a hot air balloon would help if it weren't for the tornado heading Digg's way.
Swept up in the middle of the tornado, Diggs begs for the chance to redeem himself. That chance is granted and he lands in an odd little place called Oz. With the help of a beautiful young witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), the head to the great Emerald City. Along the way she tells him the story of Oz, how a young witch killed her own father the King to take over and how he had foretold them all that a wizard of great power would come to save them. Oz/Diggs the con man knows better but Theodora and everyone they meet consider him their saving grace. Theodora also decides that the two of them will marry, something that comes back to haunt her later.
They arrive at the city and are greeted by Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who doubts Oz' abilities or claim to being a wizard. She too falls under his spell though and sends him on a mission. That mission is to retrieve the wand of the witch whose father was killed and break it, ending her power.
Diggs sets out and along the way makes some friends who accompany him, one of which he came across earlier. They find the witch, Glinda (also played by Michelle Williams) but also discover something else. Just what that is I won't reveal as it twists the story being told. Just know that things aren't always what they seem. The story takes an odd turn here and changes just about everything and everyone in the process. Just how Diggs and his friends will survive makes for an interesting and delightful movie.
At the heart of this film, as with the original, there is a story of change and of finding oneself. The original had four characters who thought they didn't have the things they needed but discovering that they had them inside all along. This film offers a similar concept with Diggs/Oz discovering that perhaps he's not the scoundrel we witnessed at the beginning of the film nor the complete waste of humanity that he thinks he is. Finding out just who he really is and what he is capable of rounds out the tale being told.
The acting on screen is well done to the point where some characters that could have been played over the top are made real by the performances seen. This would be especially difficult considering most of the film is shot on green screen for special effects. But the entire cast does a remarkable job.
Director Sam Raimi (the original EVIL DEAD and SPIDER-MAN 1, 2 & 3) does a fantastic job of combining eye catching visual effects that make the land of Oz believable while at the same time getting these actors to turn in great performances. He also brings to life characters that we've never met before like China Girl and has us caring about what happens to them. As with the original you'll find many touching moments here captured right beside the adventure being told.
Set before the events of the earlier film, this one could leave the door open for numerous sequels and indeed author L. Frank Baum did write numerous books that took place in Oz. Many of these are free to download for e-book readers online at sites like manybooks.net. If Raimi has intentions of using those stories to build from this one, I for one look forward to them. This movie was one to not only watch but to watch again and again, shared with children old and young alike.