Division Division: 'Oz: The Great and Powerful'

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by Forrest Cardamenis
March 8, 2013 3:02 PM
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The highest profile release of the week, Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great and Powerful" is also the most divisive. If you think about it, it's not too surprising. Sam Raimi built a dedicated cult following, largely due to his "Evil Dead" trilogy, and went on to superstardom directing the "Spider-Man" franchise. So a popular/cult filmmaker, directing a prequel to a book franchise that spawned what may be the single most beloved film of all time in "The Wizard of Oz?" That's a recipe for division.

A very successful recipe, too. Check out that Criticwire page one more time and look at the Grade Snapshot. It's almost a perfect bell-curve, one mostly full of conflicted indifference with occasional strong feelings. What, specifically, is causing the big divide? For one, any time you tackle something like "The Wizard of Oz," there is bound to be a built-in fanbase, some of whom may not want that famous mythology tampered with. But it goes much further than that. There are arguments about visuals, arguments about story, arguments about the effectiveness of the performance, and implicit debates about auteurism. 

It's pretty fascinating stuff, stuff that cannot be captured in a series of pull quotes, so I encourage you to click through to read the full reviews and get a bigger picture of what is going on here. That said, here is a glimpse at each side of the divide.

PRO: Man, those colors sure do look good!

"It looks nothing short of spectacular. With nearly two years in production, and a budget reported to be in the range of $200 million, the amount of time and money spent is definitely up on the big screen." -- Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

CON: ...but rarely as good as a 74 year-old film.

"'Oz the Great and Powerful' only occasionally accomplishes what its predecessor did over 70 years ago with only matte paintings, trick cinematography, imaginative sets, clever costumes and makeup, and that most famous transition of color palettes." -- Mark Dujsik, Mark Reviews Movies

PRO: It's full of good performers.

"Williams, Kunis and Weisz ably add old-fashioned charisma to a world both beautiful and distractingly artificial. These ladies have green-screen presence, a useful talent for this filmmaking age." -- Beth Hanna, Thompson On Hollywood

CON: ...giving bad performances.

"Most of the problems stem from the casting: Franco is a distinctly uninspiring Oz...Equally off-key is Mila Kunis...Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams...are ultimately no more than action-figure props made to engage in by-the-numbers showdowns." -- Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

PRO: It has good control of its tone.

"It's colorful, exciting, scary (but not too scary), and it even sneaks in just a bit of Sam Raimi's distinctively biting dark humor." -- Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

CON: ...but it has no story.

"Who is a bad or good witch takes a lot of screen time to sort out -- again you sense the film's futile search for a story." -- Kirk Honeycutt, Honeycutt's Hollywood

PRO: 'Oz' is more than a prequel; it's also a love letter.

"In a way, then, Raimi and his writers aren't just paying homage to 'The Wizard of Oz;' they've made a hero of the first movie director, one who uses those flickering illusions to change the world." -- Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

CON: ...or maybe Raimi completely folds on it.

"The director, Sam Raimi, has always tended to forfeit some personal style when working on big Hollywood productions, but this time he completely capitulates." -- Scott MacDonald, Toronto Standard

How do you feel about a revision of "The Wizard of Oz?" How did Sam Raimi balance the old with the new? Do the visuals overcome a questionable script? Feel free to weigh in about "Oz: The Great and Powerful" below.



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