Monday, March 11th, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Stench of Garbage

Disney just put out this big expensive "spiritual prequel" (who came up with that line?) to the Wizard of Oz. That 1939 Judy Garland vehicle was one of the most groundbreaking, bizarre films of any era, pushing ideas about what could be done with movies to the very edge and also nearly killing two cast members along the way. Campy as it may be, and dated, still: it was released in 1939? Two years previous, people were still commuting from Germany to South America… by way of zeppelin. (I mean, in 1939, Gandhi was still trying to get Hitler to chill out.) So: this movie is pretty amazing for something from a very long time ago.

The only good thing about this new movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, is that it clearly undercuts the worst invention of the movie The Wizard of Oz in its adaptation. (Obviously, we are going to talk about what goes on in these movies, so if you are concerned about learning plot points or whatnot, for some reason, then go away.) The great departure in the Wizard of Oz screenplay was that it is at least very strongly suggested that Dorothy had banged her head about and had a long hallucination, waking up right where she was, in Kansas all the while. In the novel—as evidenced by its 13 money-making sequels!—Oz is a "real" place. (Just like Narnia.) In this movie, our Wizard arrives in Oz, also from Kansas and also by way of tornado, which presents several questions regarding this method of transport. He meets the witches that rule, sort of, the land. (Technically, the land is between rulers.) Then he stays, presumably until Dorothy gets there, a generation later.

This is all already confusing and strange. There are two "bad" witches and one good witch. The bad witches are the daughters of the former king. Why was the reign of the former king so terrible that he had to be assassinated by the lone good witch? Can she still then be a good witch, though? Why only one good witch? What is the source of the powers of these witches? Why does one witch have an American accent and one has an extremely posh and entirely made-up English accent even though they are witch sisters? Am I really going to blame "different witch boarding schools" for that one? Why are there only three all told anyway? Are there no witchlets? What are the odds that the king of the Emerald City would have two daughters who were both witches? Was the king a witch? And why also is the society so tightly structured? You are apparently either a witch, or a farmer, or a mechanic, or a munchkin. How can an entire country exist with no class mobility whatsoever?

So there is a war in which the wizard finds himself and Rises to the Occasion, thereby making the bad witches flee and other stuff, the end. It seems like things were maybe going better before he arrived? The good witch killed the king. Surely she could take out the bad witches. Then everything would be fine. But he complicates things.

We have him there—he is the focus of the movie, unfortunately—so he has to have things to do. The movie ends, incredibly, with the wizard, having saved the day from the two witches—although apparently not finally, since, you know, Dorothy arrives and everything is a wreck in the next movie—making out with the good witch. Bizarre and unconscionable.

The reduction of the plot to what are essentially three romantic entanglements is actually rather disgusting! There's no way to say this without sounding prudish. The Wizard of Oz managed to divorce itself from romance entirely (although not from frightening psychosexual imagery, sure) yet find a plot. That the hero of this movie is forced to have romance with essentially three of the four women in the movie is just nuts.

That's how you can tell this movie suffers from a major accident, in that they wrote this story about the wizard, and then, while doing so, found a much more interesting story, which is the history of these witches. But because everyone thought that no one would pay to go see this movie about The Witches of Oz, they had to keep the main dude. The main dude's story is boring and terrible. The witches, they are exciting.

And simultaneously, James Franco is like a great null space, he's like the gap in the cat's cradle. I don't know if he's trying at all, or is being understated and natural, or if he's actually trying to be affected, to camp up the proceedings. But he's such a significant non-entity that he exposes the fact once again that the film shouldn't be about him. While meanwhile, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as witches are pretty effectively going yabba-dabba-do as hard as they can, like Fred Flintstone's feet in his stone car.

This is sort of a great paycheck for some seemingly nice people, which is fine. It's intriguing too that this movie has a, so sorry, "hipster" cast. It's like the casting was done by the marketing arm of an entirely different movie. It doesn't need a James Franco and a Michelle Williams. I don't think this is a red herring though. Relatedly, 75% of the main cast should have bagged on this. The only one who I think comes out ahead is Mila Kunis, somehow. (Not sure if I can actually explain the cultural capital v. capital capital math on that one, really, if push comes to shove.)

Anyway, this movie is terribly bad.

None of this matters. The dude in front of me at the movies said "When the fuck does Dorothy show up?" really loudly about halfway through. So Hollywood will never go broke underestimating, etc., etc.

20 Comments / Post A Comment

BadUncle (#153)

A prequel that doesn't include all of the characters in its mythology? Has George Lucas' merchandising success taught moviemakers nothing???

hockeymom (#143)

Which Franco is more terrifying? Big-Head Oz Franco or Greasy-Head Cornrow Spring Break Franco?

Mr. B (#10,093)

@hockeymom "Renaissance man" Franco.

jfruh (#713)

I actually loved the CONCEPT of this movie but have been totally turned off by even the previews for it. Like, if you were going to make a good movie based on this outline, it seems pretty obvious that the Wizard should be not a roguish yet earnest man-child who years to be "great", but a cheerful bumbling con artist who rises to the occasion more or less despite himself. Basically the Music Man with MUCH higher stakes. If you wanna get real dark, you end with hints of the descent into paranoia that leds to him hiding behind the curtain and the giant projected head business. Not sure who exactly among our young-leading-menfolk could pull this off, but James Franco's befuddledness surely isn't right.

deepomega (#1,720)

@jfruh What you want is a movie of The Rise of Ransom City, which, yes PLEASE.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

Sounds like you're describing Schindler's List.

@jfruh Danny McBride.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@jfruh Rather like a summary of Shia LaBeouf's career, that.

Rose Camille (#242,293)

Just saw this movie last night. Made up English accent? Rachel Weisz was born in London, so I think her English accent may be authentic, though last night I also wondered about siblings with mismatched pronunciation. Also, the former king was father to the good witch, not the 2 baddies. The good witch did not kill the former king, her father; the 2 baddies did and lied about it, blaming goody.

@Rose Camille I have two siblings and although we spoke the same as kids we now have three different accents.

evisruc (#242,295)

>It's like the casting was done by the marketing arm of an entirely different movie.

This is what I've been trying to put into words. It's like a miscast of every major role.

Bittersweet (#765)

"But because everyone thought that no one would pay to go see this movie about The Witches of Oz, they had to keep the main dude. The main dude's story is boring and terrible. The witches, they are exciting."

It's like they didn't even think to check the grosses from Wicked. Or just make Wicked into a movie. Is that happening?

sigerson (#179)

My better half insisted on seeing this movie on Saturday night, so away we went. The movie theatre had actually used yellow duct tape to create a little yellow brick road doormat outside the theatre. So, you know, A for Effort and all.

The movie was surprisingly good. Franco plays the role perfectly: he is a egotistic liar who lives a fantasy life of greatness and who then stumbles into greatness. And along the way, Michelle Williams and her sad, sad widow's eyes bring out the best in him. It's cheezy and campy and hilarious – never a dull moment.

"When the fuck does Dorothy show up?"

Estelle Getty, first table reading for "Golden Girls", 1985.

I blame Les Miz for this. If Hugh Jackman was free to do this we would have been spared the two faces of Franco. The two faces being the 2 facial expressions (i.e., grinning and not grinning) Franco utilizes in his dreadfully inept performance.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"And the second reason was — during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios — I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You've got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing."

Bittersweet (#765)

@Abe Sauer I feel for you, Joe, because it's really difficult to find movies out there today with "good strong male protagonists." They're really in short supply.

BadUncle (#153)

My grandmother used to read to me every single one of those books. The only one I remembered had a burning, poisonous desert the heroes had to cross. Which was an apt metaphor for my journey as audience. Doh, I kid. I love that Franky Baumbaum.

charlesfoster (#242,375)

"The bad witches are the daughters of the former king. Why was the reign of the former king so terrible that he had to be assassinated by the lone good witch? Can she still then be a good witch, though? Why only one good witch?"

Sorry, you're WRONG. The former king is the good witch Glinda's father. NOT the evil witches' father.

"Rachel Weisz plays Evanora, assumed to become the Wicked Witch of the East, and the film's primary antagonist. She is the protector of the Emerald City and former advisor to the original king of Oz, whom she kills prior to the events of the film and frames his daughter Glinda for doing."

Leslie Hatheway (#242,598)

My husband and I watched this movie last night and found it to be very well written and portrayed. It did seem as if all 3 were at one point being portrayed as sisters because Theodora said that she was Theodora the good and her father and been killed. All three may have very well been sisters and this family has some major issues to deal with.

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