If someone sets about to make a sequel or prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" they had better make sure it is a phantasmagoria filled with ideas, colors, memorable witches and a truly fantastic world. When Walt Disney Home Entertainment sent over a copy of the "Oz The Great and Powerful," I was truly curious to see how director Sam Raimi's latest movie would hold up against this premise.
"Oz The Great and Powerful" is a prequel to the story we have all come to cherish and love for generations. It starts with small-time circus illusionist Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a man of dubious morals and standards. During a storm, Diggs is whisked away in his hot air balloon and finds himself in a strange, magical world, the Land of Oz. But all is not right in the Land of Oz. The shadow of the evil witch is holding the world in its stranglehold and her minions do her dirty work, threatening to enslave the population. But there is a prophecy... of man who would put an end to her reign of terror... a man falling from the sky...
Shortly after arriving in Oz, Oscar Gibbs meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of the good witches, who instantly takes a liking to the charming, if somewhat inept, magician. Trying to convince him that he is their saviour, she introduces him to her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) in hopes that together they could rise up and fight the evil witch. But with a lot of scheming at hand and Oscar Gibbs feeling that he's not exactly cut out for the job, things quickly deteriorate and Oz is on the brink of falling to shambles and under the spell of the evil witch forever. The Land of Oz needs a miracle. The Land of Oz needs the prophecy to be true!
"Oz The Great and Powerful" is definitely a great follow up to the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" and captures the movie's spirit and magic in the same way. It may seem a bit kitschy here and there but to me, that is part of the appeal of either film. It is not infiltrated by modern-day cynicism or a supposedly mature look. It is the cotton candy of movies - light, fluffy and greatly enjoyable.
I love how Raimi draws parallels between the Judy Garland classic and this new film. For the most part, these references are never on the nose, but instead subtle and within the context of the story. Fans of the classic will find many small moments that harken back directly to the original without distracting from the story or giving the movie the look of a cheap knock-off. "Oz The Great and Powerful" stands entirely on its own feet while conjuring up and bringing to life memories of an era long past. What's there not to like?
Apart from the arresting visuals, the film is carried by its wonderful cast and James Franco once again uses his boyish charm to best effect to turn Oscar Gibbs into a likable character despite his flaws. In many ways I found Mila Kunis to be the scene stealer, however. With her innocent looking big eyes, she is just perfect for the part of the good witch who puts all her faith in Oscar, happily overlooking his shortcomings because her somewhat naive hopes seem to have come to life through him. Supported by a fascinating performance by Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, the film is truly delivering the goods.
The 1080p high definition transfer found on this Blu-Ray Disc is nothing short of breathtaking. Colors are so absolutely powerful and rich that they leap off the screen in every frame. They build the foundation for the magical world of Oz and Sam Raimi and his team use these colors to best effect for contrast and to evoke emotions. The transfer also offers an incredible level of detail in its high definition presentation, bringing it to life like you would not believe. Don't be surprised, however, when the movie starts to play in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It is an effective gimmick the filmmakers use to separate the real world from the Land of Oz.
The audio track on the disc is powerful and dynamic, making use of the split surrounds constantly, to create an active and bustling sound field. With a solid bass extension, the track is always clear and free of distortion, giving you a bombastic audio presentation at all times.
The release is larded with a good number of bonus materials, including a selection of Bloopers and featurettes. Many of these featurettes are interviews with cast and crew members, including James Franco and Danny Elfman, who wrote the score for the film - which is, by the way, hugely inspired by Elfman's own music from the Cirque Du Soleil production "Iris."
There's also a featurette on China Girl and Mila Kunis' character of Theodora and the work the went into it.
The DVD Version and a Digital Copy of the movie is also included, rounding out this marvelous release.
If you can't enjoy colorful fairy-tale fantasy any more, you may just have lost that inner child in you that we all cherish so much. "Oz The Great and Powerful" is a great example how we can recapture this essence of ourselves and let ourselves get carried away by the moment and the images we see before our eyes. The film is imaginative, colorful and just all-round fun. Grab it!