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.