An imaginative mix of live action and CGI, Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. While paying homage to the iconic images and sense of magic seen in the classic, the story isn’t so familiar that it feels like little more than a retread. Though L. Frank Baum’s original book is in the public domain, MGM owns the rights to several of the visual interpretations in the book. For instance, the well known music cues are gone, as is the Wicked Witch of the West’s mole.
While the wizard is a minor character at best in the original film, Sam Raimi’s tale gives us the backstory on the strange little man behind the curtain. The film opens in sepia-toned black-and-white, shot in a square aspect ratio just as the original film was. Set in 1905 Kansas, we are introduced to two-bit carny illusionist Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who promotes himself in a traveling circus as Oz, a great wizard. In truth, his show consists of a lot of smoke and mirrors. Weary of committing to small town girl Annie (Michelle Williams) he pursues naïve local girls with exaggerated stories about his dead grandmother’s music box.
After one dalliance too many, Oscar is forced to escape in a hot air balloon, but and gets sucked into a tornado, ending up in the Land of Oz. There he meets the gorgeous but naïve witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who mistakenly believes he’s the Wizard portended to save the kingdom from the wicked witch Glinda (Williams again), who apparently killed her father the king. Ordered by Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), to find and defeat Glinda—in return he would become the new ruler of Oz, and inherit great wealth—Oscar begins a life changing journey.
Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay, with its focus on Oscar’s quest to save Oz, is somewhat formulaic, but interesting enough to rise up what is essentially a special effects extravaganza. The occasional nods to The Wizard of Oz don’t get in the way of the story, instead helping to make it more fantastical. Franco has the charm (and plenty to spare), needed for Oz, but lacks the enormous presence one might have envisioned for the character. As Glinda Michelle Williams (who I’ve come to believe is one of the finest young actresses working in Hollywood today), has the right amount of virginal innocence, while Kunis and Weisz do a fine job with their characters, adding excitement to every scene in which they appear. Sam Raimi has added some age appropriate scares that makes Oz the Great and Powerful a better than average film.
As you might expect, this Disney transfer is impressive. Presented at 2.40:1 aspect ratio (with the exception of the first 15 minutes, which is framed at 1.33:1), colors pop off the screen, and the edge delineation is such that it gives the image a wonderful sense of depth. Black levels are strong, providing solid shadow detail. There are no technical issues to speak of.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1, which has clear and dynamic rear-speaker action. There’s quite a decibel range between dialogue and special effects, so you may find yourself adjusting the volume several times.
Subtitles are included in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The following special features are available:
- Disney Second Screen: downloadable app that allows viewers to watch additional special features during the film.
- Walt Disney and the Road to Oz (HD, 10:13) The studio and Walt Disney’s history with Oz.
- James Franco: My Journey in Oz (HD, 21:43) Directed by James Franco, he interviews director Sam Raimi, and co-stars Zach Braff and Mila Kunis. They discuss the story and how they approached their characters.
- China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief (HD, 5:26) Actress Joey King, production designer Robert Stromberg, costume designer Michael Kutsche, and others discuss the use of a marionette during filming and its eventual replacement by a CGI doll.
- Before Your Very Eyes: from Kansas to Oz (HD, 11:02) All the design aspects, development and creation of the lands of Oz the Great and Powerful.
- Mila’s Metamorphosis (HD, 7:43) Kunis, the make-up effects supervisor, and the costume designer discuss the process of turning the actress into one of the screen’s most iconic witches.
- Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions (HD, 7:13) Composer Danny Elfman discusses the film’s score.
- Blooper Reel (HD, 5:06)
- DVD Copy of the film.
- Digital Copy of the film.
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