Oz the Great and Powerful is why we go to the movies and why films are made. With this imaginative spiritual prequel to L Frank Baum's 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, prolific and profound filmmaker Sam Raimi has not only created one of the greatest films of all time, but also humbly celebrates the true genius of the greatest wizard of all time: Thomas Alva Edison, The Wizard of Menlo Park.
Credited as the fourth-most-prolific inventor in history, Edison has developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Edison's famous saying: "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration," manifests itself gloriously in Raimi's masterwork.
A sumptuous feast
Just as Edidon spun his wizardry, Raimi conjures up his own enchantment to deliver a sumptuous feast that tells a great story in an entertaining and spectacular way, truly unlike anything you could have ever imagined, and one that would have ignited the inspiration of Edison and Baum, and like-minded visionaries.
Ironically, just as Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved a three-year-old boy from being struck by a runaway train, so is our ordinary small-time circus magician with dubious ethics in Oz The Great and Powerful hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz where he becomes empowered after saving lives.
Oz the Great and Powerful is ultimately about on ordinary, flawed con artist who shows those who believe in him that he might not be the wizard they expected, but is indeed the wizard they need.
Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire's imaginative screenplay follows Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics who thinks he's hit the jackpot - fame and fortune are his for the taking - that is until he meets three witches: Theodora, Evanora and Glinda, who are not convinced that he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late.
An unforgettable climax
From the opening scene in which Raimi skilfully presents the film in black-and-white and transitions into colour when the protagonist arrives in Oz, akin to the 1939 film, (also changing aspect ratio from 4:3 Academy ratio to 16:9 widescreen), the spellbinding adventure snowballs into an unforgettable climax that you will never forget.
What makes Oz The Great and Powerful the masterwork it is, is that Raimi and his exceptional creative team opted to film the majority of the film for real, mounting the entire production on seven sound stages at the 675 000 square foot sound stage facility in Pontiac, Michigan.
And, like any great genius, Raimi is a sincere-and-honest story maker who teamed up with the greatest wizards in the film industry to help bring the enchanting Land of Oz to life. Raimi assembled his own band of technical wizards and movie magicians, including award-winning cinematographer Peter Deming (Drag Me To Hell, Mulholland Dr), two-time Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (Alice In Wonderland, Avatar), Oscar-winning film editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker, the Spider-Man trilogy), costume designers Gary Jones (Spider-Man 2) and Michael Kutsche (Thor, Alice In Wonderland), four-time Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman, visual effects Oscar-winner Scott Stokdyk (Spider-Man trilogy) and special effects make-up artists Greg Nicotero (The Grey), who has garnered five Emmys, and Academy Award-winner Howard Berger (The Chronicles Of Narnia series), both of whom created the looks of several of the unique denizens of Oz.
The combination of the artistry of the creative team is out of this world, bringing to life a vibrant world that explodes with unbelievable designs, powerfully underscored by Elfman's soaring score.
There is so much detail in the loaded design that you will definitely have to see it again to be able to take it all in: when Oscar and Theodora walk down the Yellow Brick Road flanked by fields of sunflowers, it is amazing how each one of the sunflowers turns to greet them.
Raimi's casting is equally exceptional: James Franco shines as the predestined Wizard; Mila Kunis (Black Swan) is superb as the tormented young witch Theodora; Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) delivers another great performance as Theodora's older sister, Evanora, the witch who rules over the Emerald City; and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week With Marilyn) is sensational as Glinda, the Good Witch.
The film would not be the same with Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State) who plays Franco's circus assistant and also lends his vocal talents to one of the exquisite CGI creatures in the story - Finley, the winged monkey who accompanies the magician on his journey through Oz, serving as his sounding board and the magician's conscience.
Then there's 13-year-old actress Joey King (Ramona and Beezus), who plays a girl in a wheelchair at the circus and voices another unforgettable CGI character in the story, China Girl, the porcelain child who also joins the future wizard on his fateful excursion through Oz.
Everything in entertainment you can wish for
Oz the Great and Powerful has everything in entertainment you can wish for and much, much more. When you leave the cinema you have to adjust your eyesight as the vibrant colours that embrace the visual onslaught bleed away. Oz The Great and Powerful affirms the power of storytelling and the artistry of filmmakers whose passion results in gripping and tense escapism that is filled with awe and emotion, not forgetting a delicious sense of humour. You will undoubtedly be swept away to the land of Oz and at the end of the journey not only see the world differently, but also have a different understanding of why the story has captured the imagination of the world for more than a century.
It is not only a story about magic, witches and strange creatures, but also a human story. Oz The Great and Powerful is a film that will delight all ages for many years to come. It is a wonderful ride that soars on the wings of imagination.
Behind the scenes
Sam Raimi was born to bring Oz to life. As the director of the successful film franchises ever - the blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy, which has grossed USD2.5 billion at the global box office - he began his career in his native Michigan after directing his own Super 8 movies as a teenager and left his studies at Michigan State University to form Renaissance Pictures with future producer Rob Tapert and their long-time friend, actor Bruce Campbell, with whom he made his very first feature film, the horror classic, The Evil Dead (1982). When Raimi read the script for Oz The Great and Powerful, he "fell in love with it". He said: "I thought it was engaging and that it had a great, flawed main character. His adventure was fun and, eventually, his character's transformation gave it an uplifting quality that I really enjoyed."
Raimi would like movie-goers to come to the theatre expecting a big adventure and a story that they can connect with. "I hope that they laugh and fall in love with the Wizard," said Raimi. "I hope they're terrorized by the Wicked Witch and the Winged Baboons. I think there are some surprises waiting for them down the Yellow Brick Road. By the end of the picture, I want them to rejoice that good has won out and hopefully they will feel a sense of being uplifted."
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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