Everyone knows the story of The Wizard of Oz. Whether it’s fond childhood memories from watching it at Christmas time with family on TV or recently discovering the classic tale, there’s no denying its status as a pillar of cinema.
A film with heart
From these nostalgic beginnings comes a prequel story about the man who shares his name with the wonderful world of Oz. Far from a great and powerful wizard, Oz’s story begins in the circus as we are introduced to the man behind the legend. In this case, that man is James Franco.
This black and white introductory sequence (in the now almost unheard of not widescreen format) is the strongest hark back to its predecessor…which is actually a sequel…and the tone fits alongside it neatly. The film feels like it belongs in that world, rather than just being a shameless cash-grab or spin-off.
A film with brains
Following a formula can often spell disaster for a film, but in this case, it’s where Oz is aware of its own shortcomings that it earns the most respect.
In one scene where townspeople are ripe to burst into song, Franco shuts them down with a word and his cheesiest grin, perhaps reflecting the attitude to characters bursting into song on celluloid. Elsewhere the parallels between the characters of Oz and their real-world counterparts are sometimes subtle, using imagery as well as choice words or phrases to make connections.
The cast tick all the boxes, no one personality dominates and they all fit together to cover the spectrum of good, evil and something inbetween. Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff are the big names other than Franco himself, and do themselves justice here.
There’s the odd moment where you have to suspend disbelief, but with the film being set in a magical land (which may or may not all be in Oz’s head) these moments don’t always come where you might expect them.
A film with courage?
Going up against a legacy is bold, but the film shys away from really making the story its own. There isn’t a lot going on here, aside from the age-old struggle of good vs evil and right vs wrong, and at times this can cause the plot to drag.
Not that the film itself seems too bloated. At over two hours it just about gets away with its run time without grinding to a halt at any point, which is a testament to both the group of writers who wove the narrative together and veteran director Sam Raimi who made the magic happen.
The visual effects look incredibly vivid and saturated, in a fairly trademark Disney way, but the excess of CGI (albeit well done) gives the film a somewhat cartoony feel at times, which is a shame after the simple, bare bones realism of the opening – or as real as you can get when you are dealing with a magician.
Raimi’s history with Franco (in the original Spider-Man trilogy) must have helped bring the film together, and Franco brings more depth to Oz than you might expect at first glance.
Really though, the credit can be shared equally around the cast and crew for their collaborative effort on a film which might not be great and powerful, but has moments of wonder which are more than enough for a family day out.
James Michael Parry