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Oz The Great and Powerful

12 Mar

 

I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz (1939). As a child, I read most of the Oz books, and over the years, have watched Judy Garlands’ Dorothy time and time again. 

From the technicolour  trailers, I thought and assumed this is one production I must watch. After the complete hash job of ‘Return To Oz’ in 1985, the “unofficial sequel” to the 1939 production, I thought they could not or would not attempt to make another attempt to return to Oz, so to speak.

However, this version was touted as a “prequel”. Naturally, being an avid fan, I expected great and powerful things. We arrived at the cinema and handed our tickets to the attendant. “Just follow the yellow brick road” he said. I thought he was being sarcastic until I looked down and saw a vinyl yellow road taped down onto the hardwearing industrial carpet. It led us to the IMAX screen. We’d never been in there before. We had to have a different type of 3D glasses to the ones I had brought in especially for the occasion. We settled down and watched the large images in front of us.

Sam Raimi, who brought us ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and the ‘Spiderman‘ trilogy , created his version of how a mere mortal, Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, a small time Kansas con-man/magician with an eye for the ladies, came to be the wonderful wizard of Oz.

Taking inspiration from the original classic, this version also starts in black and white. The scene is set and we catch a glimpse into the world of late 19th century entertainment with a menagerie of circus acts which includes contortionists, strong men, hoopla and clowns. I couldn’t help but feel that it was “too staged” for my likings. In comparison to The Artist, which was shot completely in monochrome and silence which added to the feeling that one was watching a silent movie from that era or transported back in time , the use of black and white here was too clinical. It appeared to lack depth and had a touch of a modern day soap opera. A little bit hammy and lacking in chemistry between the character actors.

As Oscar is a bit of a “player”, he toys with the emotions of a naïve, attractive woman and as a token or gesture of their relationship, he hands her a wooden music box with a sad tale of how it belonged to his grandmother. The young woman is infatuated with him but her real boyfriend or husband finds out and threatens to kill Oscar, who in turn, attempts to escape in a hot air balloon.  He does this with glee, but once again, with reference to the original, is soon trapped in a tornado and is hurtled into the middle of the storm. He prays to be kept alive and promises that if he does survive, he will be a changed man.

Like Dorothy, who moved from the bleak black and white room and through the doors into the wonderful technicolour world of Oz, Oscar is also transported in similar fashion. He is shifted from a crouching position in the basket of the balloon and only when he puts his head above the parapet, does the colour glow into his cheeks and we are seduced by the colourful offerings in this new land of Oz.

Oscar, or Oz, as he refers to himself, is befriended by a young witch named Theodora. She initially believes him to be the saviour of Oz, but he informs her otherwise. They develop a close friendship and he seduces her with his charm. However, any romantic notions Theodora has towards Oscar are short lived when her sister Evanora, informs her that Oscar also attempted to seduce her and brings out a wooden music box.

Theodora becomes upset and cries.  As I watched this scene I thought “Tears that arise from a breaking heart burn and sear the pain”. The tears literally burn her face. As Theodora feels humiliated by the taunts and words of her sister, she becomes more enraged and embittered. Her sister then encourages her to eat an apple in order to seek revenge. This scene appeared to be a rehash of the scene in Disneys’ Snow White, when the evil witch, disguised as an old beggar woman beguiles and preys on the vulnerable and gullible young heroine. Once bitten, Theodora realises  the identity of the true evil witch and the one who wants to rule Oz. She begins to change and turns green with envy. The term “hell hath no fury…” came to mind and it was good to see the morphing of a “good girl gone bad”. Thanks, Rihanna!

It is then that the mood of the film begins to change from a fairly light story into a more darker and sinister tale which again is typical of Disney.

Relying more heavily on being action driven rather than plotlines, Oz The Great and Powerful is a visual feast of delights, an Avatar for the younger children.  There were times when I thought this production was typical of Disney studios. There were scenes when Oscar would walk down the yellow brick road and I almost imagined or expected him to burst into song like “Zip a dee doo dah” . Then, when Oscar is enraptured by the beauty of the land, there were scenes which reminded me of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Introducing new characters like China Girl and Finley the monkey, voiced by Joey King and Zach Braff respectively,  allowed the film to develop themes of family, friendship, companionship and a bit of humour.  Like the monkey in Aladdin and the Gingerbread Man in Shrek, they added the “Aaah!” factor.

James Franco shows what a versatile actor he is with the simultaneous release of this film and with the release of Spring Breakers in which he plays an off the wall drugs dealing character. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was too mature and didn’t really bounce with goodness or charm. Rachel Weisz  looked as if she relished the role of playing the evil witch  Evanora and Mila Kunis as her sister Theodora made the role her own.  I could believe in her portrayal of the Wicked Witch as she demonstrated consistency and, I assume in her research, added cackles and mannerisms to her character which are definitely in line with the Wicked Witch in Oz that we know and love/hate over the decades.

The inclusion of black actors, especially a character named Knuck, played by Tony Cox, made this production and the dialogue feel “too modern”. It was good to see that it was trying to appeal to a wider audience but at times, it felt it lacked the sentiment, whimsical charms of the original but was a more superior and value for money production better than “Return to Oz”.

The Learned Kat

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

19 Dec

Having watched Peter Jacksons’ Lord Of The Rings trilogy on DVD a few years ago, I was keen on watching  The Hobbit or the prequel to the whole LOTR saga.

Martin Freeman was well cast as Bilbo Baggins, and really captured the essence of the character I had visualised in my own mind – a humble, modest, reluctant adventurer, who, at the beginning, is torn between remaining in his home County or seeking new thrills and adventures at the suggestion of Gandolph.

Ian Mckellan reprises his role as Gandolph, but in comparison to the LOTR trilogy, this time he appears to play him with less intensity and mystique and there is a slight campness to his role, almost like a watered down panto dame.

The roles of the dwarves is “padded out” and some scenes or lines are provided so that the audience becomes more familiar with their characters. The first half of the film just seemed to plod along, and time was given to create character development and a comparison to how things were and how things became  since the King of the Dwarves was thwarted during an earlier battle.  And it was the battle scenes which really bolstered the film and gave it the impression that we were watching something epic. Otherwise it seemed like a  slow burning drama. However, the pace soon picked up with the appearance of  a much less “sinister” and more humane Gollum in the dark caves. The scene in which Bilbo first meets him added some humour with riddles and expressions which brought titters and chuckles in the auditorium and I almost felt sorry for the sad, pitiful and lonely creature with his teary, large blue eyes and wide mouth full of nine teeth, ready to gnaw into any flesh he found. That. for me, was the “standout” scene.

Cate Blanchett as Galadriel makes what appeared to me, an unnecessary cameo appearance, as her character does not even appear in the novel. Christopher Lee makes a brief return as Saruman The White or the Head of the Order of Wizards but comes across as more of a rambling old man rather than a powerful and authoritative figure.

The CGI effects in creating the Trolls, Orcs, Wargs and Goblins provided a real sense of evil, menace and creatures that lived in a Kingdom of darkness and cruelty.

Cinematography and visuals were simply stunning and once again, using the fantastic landscape of New Zealand really was truly breathtaking in parts.

However, in comparison to the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit was a more “lightweight” adventure, many scenes of Middle Earth looked whimsical and colourful but I assume that is deliberate in this instalment as there are another two planned and they may become “darker” in the storytelling.

Overall, rather than it being a snooze fest as I initially thought it would be, it turned into quite an enjoyable saga with several doses of  adrenalin rush. I look forward to seeing the next instalment but would I be in a rush to watch it at the cinema or wait for it to be available on DVD? Time will tell…

The Learned Kat