It's safe to say that famed director Sam Raimi likes to "dabble". He burst onto the scene in 1981 with his cult-classic horror film The Evil Dead. Continuing down a similar circuit for over the next 15 years, Raimi tweaked his strictly horror approach with 1998's well-received crime thriller A Simple Plan starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. From there, the director tried his hand at a sports film (For Love of the Game) and a superhero franchise (Spider-Man). But now, in 2013, Raimi has ventured somewhere very few people have ever gone ... somewhere over the rainbow.
Oz the Great and Powerful follows Oscar Diggs (played by Franco), a small-time circus magician with extremely questionable morals. But when his one true love is proposed to by another man, Oscar is whisked away from Kansas to the Land of Oz where he meets three witches (played by Williams, Kunis and Rachel Weisz), a monkey named Finley, a "China Doll" and a whole bunch of munchkins who help turn him into a great wizard and an even greater man.
With all due respect to the Late-Great King of Pop, Michael Jackson, director Sam Raimi's journey to the Land of Oz serves as the most memorable addition since 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Raimi's repeated and systematic approach offers moviegoers a friendly reminder of childhood nostalgia without ever breaking much new ground. An over-pouring of visual effects and vibrant imagery can't quite masquerade a diluted amount of actual substance. Hence, Oz plays like a living conundrum. For each of the film's various glowing aspects, there lurks revisited ideas and flashy visuals. Much like the original journey to Oz that we're all so familiar with, Raimi pays attention (and homage) to its distant predecessor by molding the entire experience around a wholesome and well-intended "moral to the story". In doing so, Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful makes for a rather fun and affectionate film.
Although Oz can be chalked up as an acceptable prequel, many of the feature's shortcomings keep the movie straddling the line of mediocrity. While many will and should expect a visual extravaganza, the special effects aren't all fantastic. The audience's introduction to "the wicked witch" is a rather big letdown. Visually unappealing and completely unrealistic-looking, the big "reveal" becomes one of the picture's most notable disappointments. In addition to some faulty visual aspects, Oz suffers from an almost unforgivable amount of poorly-acted scenes. Even relatively well regarded cast members such as James Franco and Rachel Weisz deserve an occasional "shame on you". However, neither of the two disappoint as a much as an immensely miscast Mila Kunis. Despite many blatant flaws, Oz utilizes a simple brand of innocent humor and a kind-hearted nature to almost force the audience into a thumbs-up submission.
Sam Raimi's broad perspective on filmmaking helps make for an enjoyable return to the Land of Oz. Even though Oz will never come close to standing up to the towering effect of the original, Raimi wins over the moviegoer by serving up a reminiscent and famliar story. While I would normally suggest waiting for DVD for a film of this standing, most of its visual mastery warrants a trip to the big screen. If you're up for the prolonged 130 minute journey, then take a chance with Oz the Great and Powerful.