Film review by John Campbell
Tampering with a solid gold classic can be a folly just asking for scathing retribution. Sam Raimi, who gave us Toby Maguire’s already superseded Spiderman trilogy, has done nothing to enhance his reputation with this loud and plodding digression from Victor Fleming’s much loved story of Dorothy and Toto (1939).
Showing due deference, Raimi begins in Kansas, 1905, with a B&W, 4×3 aspect ratio. Oscar (James Franco) is a nickel-and-dime carnival magician and ladies’ man. A needlessly long preamble ends when, fleeing a cuckolded strongman, his balloon is swept up in a tornado before dropping him in broad-screen, vividly coloured Oz where, like Cortes, he is assumed to be the prophesied wizard who will right all the land’s wrongs.
A pair of evil sisters, Evanora and Theodora (Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis), rule the roost. Blonde Glinda in the white dress (Michelle Williams) has met ill treatment at their hands and the film grinds inexorably to the final conflict that will pit good against bad.
Two arduous hours later, with the end thankfully in sight, my companion whispered to me, ‘do you know what’s going on?’ ‘Nah.’ Our vagueness was not caused by any Byzantine turn in the plotting, rather it was due to the obsession with special effects – the blokes in CGI have taken over, leaving writers to sing for their supper. Unarguably, the visuals are a delight (who wouldn’t expect that?), but when technology blights the essential need – at whatever level in cinema – to feel involved in the story, ennui descends.
Franco is a terrific actor, personable and handsome, but, unlike Johnny Depp, he is not up to making much of a slapstick character that is, basically, Jack Sparrow in a top hat and morning coat. Saving it from being a complete dead loss are the fragile porcelain doll (voiced by Joey King) and Finley the monkey (Zach Braff), who reminded me uncannily of my own little dog.
Both Evanora and Theodora took off in a huff after the big battle, thus ensuring a sequel. Groan.