Commentary, movie reviews

Wizardly Commentary: Thoughts on Oz, the Great and Powerful

((SPOILER WARNING))

Tonight we saw Oz, the Great and Powerful, the new movie from Disney that is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Strange, perhaps, to release a prequel 74 years after the original movie, but maybe we needed this long for Oz to permeate our pop culture, and for us to be ready for another trip there.

Personally, I’ve never especially liked the original movie. I know, I know, it’s a Classic Film, but there are a handful that either I saw at the exact wrong time as a child or that have never held my interest. E.T. is one I’ve never liked because I had nightmares about the titular character jumping out of the very-familiar-pile-of-toys on my bed. He terrified me, and to this day I will not watch that movie. I suspect the Wizard of Oz falls into the latter category; it’s never been very interesting to me. I’ve always liked the first bit, with the tornado and landing in Oz and all, but somewhere around the poppy field I always get bored or distracted and never seem to finish.

All of that being said, I was actually looking forward to Oz, the Great and Powerful. It looked and sounded promising, and if nothing else it would be a relatively entertaining Disney jaunt. It was much better than that.

Things I liked about the movie included the conflict between the witches. I liked that Glenda wasn’t dumb, and that Theodora is a surprise of sorts. I knew since neither of those first two witches was named “Glenda” that we should be careful of them, but they didn’t seem all that bad really. Not until they needed to be properly wicked. I also liked the scenes when they flew through Oz itself, with the land (sometimes literally) unfolding beneath and around them. It was also, as J observed, a very good movie in which no one died.

The best parts were the nods to the original work, not just to the 1939 movie, but to the Oz books themselves. The circus at the beginning is “Baum’s Circus” and the girl-left-behind goes off to marry a John Gale, and I can only assume they are Dorothy’s parents. There is a lion called cowardly, and useful scarecrows, and other such things, but there are also Quadlings and Tinkers and people of Oz! I enjoyed that a lot.

Things I didn’t like included the parts that were obviously included for 3D. We saw it in 2D and it was bright and colorful and gorgeous, but there were certain parts (water fairies, I’m looking at you) that were only there for the sake of the 3D, and we had to wait patiently for those bits to be done as they tended to be slow (so as people watching in 3D could appreciate them, I suppose). I also didn’t like how quickly Theodora became a wicked witch. I thought she’d fight it a little more, that she would be more complicated and that she wouldn’t turn to complete wickedness just over a man. I wanted more depth from that character. Another note on her: Mila Kunis really got the Margaret Hamilton, Wicked Witch laugh down. It’s hard to fill those black, pointy shoes, but she did a pretty good job.

The most interesting part of watching the movie itself I’m not sure was even intentional. Maybe it was, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At any rate, the movie opens in old-school, small frame black and white, and then opens into color when we arrive in Oz, just like the original. The interesting thing to me was that the movie was almost annoyingly quiet in the black and white portion. I was extremely aware that I was in a (very full) theater; people whispered, candy wrappers rustled, popcorn crunched… and then as we got to Oz and the picture expanded and the color turned on, the sound became encompassing and there we were. The more I think about it, the more I think this had to be on purpose. How else would a shift to color (and very saturated color at that) be such a big moment in the movie, unless the filmmakers could recreate the wonder of that Technicolor moment with a modern audience? So you aren’t fully immersed until you enter Oz. It’s very clever.

Overall it was a very enjoyable movie, and I recommend it to anyone, whether they need a kick of nostalgia or if they just want to see Oz in a new way.

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