Film review: Oz: the Great and Powerful (PG)


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The Independent Culture

Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell) directs this prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, and for a while it looks like he might just pull it off.

The prologue, shot in dreamy widescreen black-and-white, reimagines a seedy fairground magician, Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco), who aspires to be the Thomas Edison of the tent show.

Escaping an adversary in a hot-air balloon, Oscar is magicked via a Kansas twister to the land of Oz, where he is taken for the wizard who's destined to save everyone from the Wicked Witch. From this point the film blooms into vibrant colour and the stars come out: Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams play witches in varying degrees of good and evil, though the show is comprehensively stolen by Finley the winged monkey, the magician's bag-carrier and conscience (superbly voiced by Zach Braff).

As an origin story it's only so-so, bullied by the digimated effects and bulked out, for no good reason, to 130 minutes. That black-and-white opening, woozily shot by Peter Deming, is fabulous, but everything afterwards is something of an anticlimax.