The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 28, 2013

Benji Tunnell: New 'Wizard of Oz' adaptation lacks magic

JOPLIN, Mo. — "The Wizard of Oz" is one of the few incontestable, unassailable classics in film. When the idea of tinkering with the world of Oz comes along, it is best to approach with apprehension.

To be fair, the same could be said about the original film. L. Frank Baum created a beloved universe in his series of "Oz" books, and his world had been adapted into a stage play long before the film was done.

But most memories tie to the film, which is why subsequent adaptations and sequels have not been received nearly as well. Baum's works have lapsed into the public domain, however, so it is too tempting for a big studio to look at an established world that's free for the taking and not at least give it a shot.

That's why we have "Oz the Great and Powerful."

Taking place before the events of "The Wizard of Oz," this "Oz" follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a circus magician, flim-flam man and all-around philanderer, who, in an attempt to escape the angry partner of one of his female conquests, jumps into a hot air balloon and flies straight into a tornado.

When he touches down, he finds himself in a strange and colorful world. He is approached by Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of three witches of the Land of Oz, who tells him of the prophecy of a great wizard who will free her people.

Seeing this as an opportunity to impress an attractive lady, Oscar fires off a few tricks to convince her that he is indeed that wizard. He is taken to the Emerald City, where he meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz), the second witch, who may not be what she seems. Evanora teases Oscar with a vast gold supply that will belong to the wizard, assuming he kills the wicked witch.

Oscar, faced with two beauties and a mountain of gold, quickly agrees to go after her, but on the way encounters comic relief in the forms of nice flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), as well as China Girl (voiced by Joey King), a fragile porcelain child whose family and village were destroyed by the evil flying monkeys sent by the wicked witch.

The trio finally meet Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) and set about uncovering the true wicked witch and developing a plan to take back the Emerald City.

The movie can't help but be compared to the original film, and in that the new "Oz" truly suffers. Every reference or tip of the hat seems like a pale comparison.

The film starts in black and white and morphs into brilliant color, as the first did. Oz travels with a trio of companions, as in the original, with references even being made to the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

They travel the Yellow Brick Road; they encounter very fierce-looking flying monkeys; they meet Munchkins; they face an evil witch who flies on a broom. Yet, every step of the way it seems that the film is lacking in what made the original so memorable, which should have been a given in a movie about a sideshow-huckster-turned-powerful wizard: magic.

There are a few fingers to be pointed as to why the movie didn't seem to come together. First, James Franco just isn't a very good wizard. He seems as out of place here as he did when he co-hosted the Oscars. He comes across as insincere and half-hearted, appropriate for the character we are introduced to, but it doesn't allow us to believe in the change of attitude and philosophy that the film wants us to buy into, which is essential in the character development throughout the film.

The main fault in the weaknesses of the film has to lie with director Sam Raimi. Raimi has proven that he can take a beloved property and update it successfully ("Spider-Man"), but the pieces just don't seem to fit together here. It's as if he and the studio just grabbed hold of the formula that made Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" remake so successful and haphazardly applied it.

It seems as though Raimi wants to be Burton. The film has the look and feel of "Alice" (all the way down to Burton's preferred composer, Danny Elfman), the forced and unnecessary 3-D and even the occasional quirks. All it is missing is Johnny Depp (Raimi's original casting choice, incidentally). But that formula is wearing thin, and the seams show throughout the film.

That's not to say that there isn't anything redeeming in the film. Braff adds touches of comic relief here and there, and Williams portrays a genuineness and innocence as Glinda that helps counteract the acidity of Franco's portrayal. And Kunis' doe-eyed wonder in meeting the wizard, coupled with her naivete, make her endearing early on.

But we know that there have to be three witches who survive, that two of them have to be evil, and that one of them needs a certain look. So the movie forces a transformation with very little build and as such it feels as artificial as some of its special effects.

If anything, "Oz the Great and Powerful" acts as an allegory for the wizard himself: Brash, flashy, often impressive looking, but in the end, the whole thing is merely an illusion.

Text Only
  • 071814_whiskeydicks.jpg Stretching out: Whiskey Dick's can do more in a bigger downtown location

    For the Whiskey Dick's owners, it isn't a matter of what's in a name but more of a place where everybody knows your name.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Film-Hollywoods Ape M_Cast.jpg Benji Tunnell: Great CGI, solid writing make 'Apes' a near-perfect blockbuster

    A couple of weeks ago, we saw "Transformers 4," a big, computer-driven blockbuster film that was symbolic of all that is wrong with filmmaking today.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • polyphony.jpg Marta Churchwell: New Mexico marimba group returns for concert Sunday

    They're back. Polyphony Marimba, the Santa Fe, New Mexico, band that wowed the crowd with African music during a Downtown Joplin Third Thursday last summer, received such a response to that performance that they're coming back on Sunday.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • River Regatta 2013.jpg Dave Woods: Nevada regatta makes for a birthday escape

    In just three weeks, I'll spend my 50th birthday floating down the Colorado River with 35,000 of my closest friends.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow 1 Story

  • 071814_pickin trimmin.jpg New festival focuses on short independent films

    As Jack Truman saw his films play in festivals around the world, one lingering thought persisted: He wished that such festivals existed in his hometown area.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071614 Glory Days_72.jpg Glory Days Music to resume weekly in-store concerts

    The staff at Glory Days Music have been working their business as usual. Musicians demonstrate guitars, drums and other instruments. Music is sold; lessons are taught. But something has been missing.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • mug_joe-hadsall-112613.jpg Joe Hadsall: All the hidden secrets in "Weird Al's" "Word Crimes" video

    I sincerely believe the "Word Crimes" video will become the most important song in history, and the most mandatory-to-watch video in schools across the country.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • mug_joe-hadsall-112613.jpg Globe Phone Test: Concept is clever, but transitions tricky with Asus PadFone X

    It's kind of embarrassing to point this out, but "Candy Crush Saga" is one of the best ways to illustrate how well the Asus PadFone X, a smartphone and tablet combo really works.

    Anyone who has more than one device will understand this situation completely: Let's say a player fires up "Candy Crush" on his tablet computer and really digs the game. A lot. So much so that he downloads it to his smartphone.

    Only there's one problem: All the progress made on the tablet is stuck on the tablet. The smartphone has a completely separate path of progress, meaning the player has to play each level twice. This makes progress through the game twice as long. (This problem can be fixed by signing up for the game on Facebook, but no one really wants their Facebook friends to know they spend so much time crushin' candy.)

    The Asus PadFone X is the dream solution to this nightmare of a problem.

    Available exclusively from AT&T, the device is actually two devices. A standalone smartphone can be plugged into a tablet computer, meaning the owner can take his pick of how he wants to play the game, and all the progress he makes is saved on one device's hard drive.

    AT&T loaned us a device that we tested for more than two weeks -- didn't like having to send it back -- and we found a lot of its qualities and quirks.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tantric tours in support of latest studio album

    "37 Channels," the latest album from Hugo Ferreira's band, features a lineup of guests including Hinder's Austin Winkler, Shooter Jennings, 3 Doors Down drummer Greg Upchurch, Uncle Kracker guitarist Kevin McCreery, Saving Abel guitarist Scott Bartlett and Leif Garrettt.

    July 11, 2014

  • 071114_steve cindy head.jpg New exhibit combines works of married couple

    Steve and Cindy Head create different types of art, which means they can be each other's best mentor. Steve makes mixed media works assembled from photographs, headlines and more; Cindy paints vivid patterns and fanciful scenes with bold color palettes.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo