the geek life

Wizardly Commentary: Thoughts on Oz, the Great and Powerful


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.

the geek life

Thoughts on Jurassic Park, 3D.

Last night I saw Jurassic Park in 3D.

The interesting thing (to me) about this movie is that I remember when it came out in theaters, but I never went to see it. Maybe because I wasn’t quite 11 and the movie was PG-13 (though, seeing it now, it’s a very tame PG-13 compared to current movies) or maybe because by the time I was nearly 11 I was over the dinosaurs thing and had moved on to horses, or maybe a little of both. At any rate, I remember this movie in the cultural landscape of, oh, fifth grade or so and what a big deal it was.

I also remember going to Universal Studios this past November and walking through the Jurassic Park section, and thinking how exciting it must have been when that bit of the park opened, and how much things have changed (with a comparison to, say, the Harry Potter section there now). It puts things into a cultural context where you can see things age.

All of that being said, it is important to know that I have never seen this movie, from start to finish, in its entirety until tonight. The only time I’ve seen it before was probably ten years ago, edited for TV on a tiny, square screen. Somehow the t-rex just doesn’t have the same impact in such a situation.

The movie absolutely withstands the test of time, apart from the obviously dated electronics (the theater audience all had a good laugh at the “interactive CD-ROM” in the Jeeps). The storytelling and pacing are still good, as are the visual effects, which really surprised me. There is no obvious green/blue screen, and I had no trouble buying into the humans interacting with the dinosaurs.

The 3D was some of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good bit. Most people complain about the “dimness” of the screen in 3D , or how the images look like cut-outs after conversion (like a diorama) but this movie doesn’t seem to suffer from either. The 3D was seamless from my perspective, and actually enhanced the movie– when I took off my glasses to squint at the “original” film on screen, the movie took on a dated look, but with the 3D it was like seeing something fresh. Which, of course, to me it mostly was, but I wasn’t aware that I was looking at a twenty-year-old film.

Besides all of that, it’s just a fun movie. It’s scary in all the right places, it’s got just the right amount of suspense, and a good sense of wonderment at the dinosaur sightings. I kept expecting the floor to shake with the t-rex’s footsteps.

So (if my opinion counts for anything) I completely recommend seeing this one in theaters. I know it’s expensive to see it in the 3D, but it’s a great experience and, I think, worth it.

And, for what it’s worth, now that I’ve seen the movie start to finish, the Jurassic Park section at Universal did a remarkable job recreating the Visitor Center.

the geek life

There and Back Again: a Hobbit Commentary

WARNING: Spoilers, Sweetie.

My thoughts on the first installment of the new Hobbit trilogy, after having seen it twice.

First, I’m not sure that the 3D added to my enjoyment of the movie, except that the scenery was more immersive. I enjoyed all of the New Zealand vistas, and getting to see both familiar and new locations. Some places looked familiar that probably weren’t quite the same, but that’s what you get filming in a single (gorgeous) country.

Second, the casting is really good. I was hesitant when I saw Thorin at first, since he doesn’t look quite dwarf-y enough to me, but I really like it given the rest of the plot.

And now to that plot… The added orcs, the added characters (Radagast), etc, are heavily drawn from (or inspired by) the descriptions of concurrent events and histories in the Appendices of Lord of the Rings and from the other writings of JRR Tolkien. I know some people (purists, I’d guess) have complained, but really I thought it was well done and took what would have been an episodic children’s story and turned it into something cinematic. 

Radagast was one of my favorite additions. He’s always been fascinating to me as a background character in LotR, and to see him actually realized (and so well done!) is really fun. He might be my favorite part. And who wouldn’t want a rabbit sled?

Finally, the main complaint I’ve seen is that the movie is entirely too similar to Fellowship of the Ring. And if you haven’t read the books, or if you don’t know why Tolkien wrote Fellowship, then it’s understandable. The thing is, The Hobbit was surprisingly successful. The publisher wanted a sequel, and so Tolkien tried to give them the text of what would become Silmarillion, his mythology that he’d been writing for Great Britain. The publisher didn’t want to deal with all of that, they wanted another episodic children’s book, so Tolkien tried again. He wrote about Bilbo having another adventure, then he wrote about Bilbo’s son (who no longer exists) and eventually it morphed into Bilbo’s cousin, Frodo. The story kept expanding, and became a blend of Hobbit-like plot with Silmarillion-like depth, and Lord of the Rings was the result. But if you keep in mind that each hobbit’s journey began with a trip toward Rivendell, and given that Fellowship began as a sequel, it’s no surprise that the two seem alike. The journeys are similar because they are moving from west to east, they encounter elves and goblins, and they must use their wits to survive in a scary world that’s in conflict.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and can’t wait to see the next installment.

joanna irl

Another Hawaiian Sunset

1/9/2012 beachy afternoon clouds

Today was a perfect beach day. The weather was warm but not too hot, the breeze was gentle and there were just enough clouds to break up the sunshine a little.

I like Hawaii best on days where I get to go to the beach. Unfortunately I don’t get them as often as I’d like, but I think I go less than I could because there are always plenty of other things to occupy time. I should go more often, though, especially on days when I’m not working. It’d be good for me, I think.

1/9/2012 beach umbrellas

Anyway, after about 3 hours at the beach I realized it was about rush hour (and who wants to drive in that if you don’t have to?) and that sunset was in another hour, so I decided to stick it out as the air turned cool and watch the sunset. I was glad of my coverup, though, and to be sitting on a towel. Sand doesn’t hold heat all that long in the winter. I think I was well rewarded, though.

1/9/2012 winter sunset

In slightly related news (I did spent 4 hours at the beach reading, after all), I finished the Hunger Games trilogy today. It was… well, really well written. And I’m still digesting the end. And I’m getting excited about the movie. But that’s all I’ll say at the moment. Later, when I’ve had time to chew on it, I might write more specific things, but for now I’ll just say I’m sorry it took me so long to discover the books. Tomorrow I start a new book! I’ve read 3 already in January and it feels good to be tearing through books again. ^_^

the geek life

Random Commentary on The Hour

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a new British drama on BBC America this fall called “The Hour.” It’s about the BBC’s news hour in the 1950s, Cold War espionage and intrigue, government conspiracies and cover-ups, suspense and mystery with a dash of romance.

The story centers around Bel, who is the new female producer of the brand new BBC news program, “The Hour;” Freddie, who is Bel’s good friend and one of the journalists, but who also has a knack for getting the very best stories that the public wants to know; and Hector, the charming anchor who has had the world (apparently) on a silver platter, including his lovely wife, but seems almost disenchanted with the whole thing. You can imagine the predictable love triangle, I’m sure, but the rest is really beyond what I can figure. Here are my thoughts so far. Spoilers, if you can’t tell!

Continue reading “Random Commentary on The Hour”

the geek life

Cowboys and Aliens and… humming birds?

Tonight I went to see Cowboys & Aliens.

It is exactly what the title says: a movie about cowboys and aliens. I read a Time editorial where the author was singing the praises of literal movie titles, and I have to say I agree that sometimes it’s nice to have a movie that just says right up front what it’s about.

Anyway, the movie was very enjoyable. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig both make excellent cowboys and it’s fun to see them play off of each other. One thing I especially enjoyed was that Craig’s character consistently makes a point of keeping his hat on his head, despite tumbling into a lake, being blasted out of a cave, and falling off of things a fair few times. It reminded me of Indiana Jones and his hat… and of course, to have a very rugged Indy sitting beside him made it that much better. They really inhabited these characters and their reactions to (and interactions, such as they are, with) the aliens are believable; when the townsfolk first encounter the aliens, they ask the preacher what they are and he points out that they fit the description of demons pretty well, so that’s what they are for the rest of the movie– demons. No one ever says “alien” because that wasn’t a part of the vocabulary back then. Beings from outer space? Demons.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but I will say that a hummingbird appears in two scenes and while it kind of worked for me the first time, I wasn’t sure entirely what they were implying with it the second time. I’m sure they mean it metaphorically, but I don’t like their metaphor/connection. If you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

Second, in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie it’s mostly just an old-style Western (albeit a little rougher than, say, a John Wayne flick), and when the preacher character is introduced, he says what pretty much sums up the movie:

1. “Only two types of people get shot; criminals and victims. Which one are you?” and

2. “I’ve seen good men do bad things and I’ve seen bad men do good things.”

The movie is based around the question of the main character– is he a criminal or a victim? And a whole lot of bad men rising to do good things.

So yeah. I liked it. 🙂

[edit as of 8/14] Lots of people keep finding this post looking for the answer of what the hummingbird means, and as it’s now been 2 weeks since the movie’s been out I’ll tell you my thoughts here. The hummingbird represents his subconscious as he searches for the answers to his past. He follows the hummingbird to the truth and then remembers what happened to his girlfriend/wife and how to find the “demons” again. There is some implication that the alien woman could see it, too; I was sure she looked right at it, and she was therefore somehow connected to him for his little trip. If that is the case, it could represent any number of things. Here are some of my thoughts.

  • It is possible that the entire sequence after he takes the drugs is nothing but a huge drug trip. He’s still following the hummingbird and has either dreamed up the entire second half of the movie, or the second half of the movie is really happening but he’s seeing a different version of reality than everyone else (skewed by the drug).
  • The hummingbird might be directly connected to the woman. Somehow she recognizes him and that he knows how to find the aliens– either by the bracelet itself or by some other means– and the drug and his recollection could be tied to her (which is why she was holding him as he regained his memory). Another variation of this is that she became connected to him by holding him during the dream, and that she could then see what he saw, including the dream-hummingbird.
  • The hummingbird could represent his love for the woman who died. He followed the bird back to the house in his trance and re-experienced everything that happened to him up until the point he escaped from the aliens. Then when it’s all over and he goes back to the house for real, he “sees” the hummingbird because he has avenged his love and that has given him closure and contentment.

Any of these could be a way to interpret the hummingbird, or even a blend of all of them. I could be way off here, but somehow I don’t think so. And I don’t really like the inclusion of a device like a hallucinated hummingbird when we are otherwise meant to take the aliens seriously as real beings. By adding a dream animal it then makes the whole movie feel too much like a fake scenario. Yes, I know that it is most definitely a fiction, but the movie’s inner logic is all consistent… except for the hummingbird. And that bothers me.