Film review: ‘We’re off to see the wizard,’ again and again and again…

by Meghan Dellinger

It’s a place of Munchkins, Tinkers and Quadlings, where animals can talk, witches roam free and little orphaned girls from Kansas have a habit of getting lost.

The land of Oz was created in May of 1900 in L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Since then, many adaptations, sequels, prequels and remakes have made their way to the big and small screen. But never before has anyone come up with a prequel focused on the mysterious “man behind the curtain” himself — the Wizard of Oz.

In this newest version, “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” Sam Raimi directs a visually well-done and pleasant family movie. Raimi is often noted for directing the “Spider-Man” movies.

James Franco plays Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a small-time circus magician who enjoys money and women. Franco, who usually plays cunning and charming characters, is believable in this role. He often plays similar roles in other films, which is perhaps why he fits the part so well.

Franco is accompanied by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams as the witches Theodora, Evanora and Glinda. The story of how the Wicked Witch (Kunis) turns evil is interesting at first. Theodora falls in love with Oz, then feels betrayed by him later and falls under her sister Evanora’s (Weisz) evil influence.

Yet the speed with which Theodora falls in love and then feels intense hatred for the wizard is a little far-fetched, making her character seem rather childish. Most likely Raimi did this on purpose, to show the innocence and vulnerability of Theodora, but it may not translate well to the movie screen. The story of “Wicked” was a much more endearing tale for the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Wicked”, both as a book and a play, tells the tale of the Wicked Witch (named Elphaba) in a different light. The story parallels well to the newest “Oz” because both show the Wicked Witch of the West as ugly, but misunderstood.

In the case of “Oz,” the Wicked Witch was good at one point, but turned bad. In the case of “Wicked,” the story is told as misunderstandings and explanations of why things happened to set Elphaba up in the way she was in Dorothy’s eyes.

With so many adaptations focused around the same story, clearly Baum’s story was original enough to interest people for generations to come. The 1939 Judy Garland version, the most prominent and popular, set the stage for contemporary versions to emerge, such as the Sci-Fi Channel’s miniseries “Tin Man” starring Zooey Deschanel, and now, “Oz.”

In the case of the newest “Oz,” Raimi has done well. The storyline is fairly predictable, but that’s expected of a movie where people already know what the ending will be. There are a few twists to keep viewers thinking, and the whole concept of looking back to the wizard’s beginnings in the land of Oz is something that will excite fans of the original story.

“Oz” fits with the original tale, giving viewers the chance to understand why the wizard will one day say to Dorothy, “I’m really a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”

Contact Meghan Dellinger at mdellinger15@my.whitworth.edu

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