Pop-Ed: Oz The Great & Powerful – Will It Work?

bill bodkin and daniel cohen debate the return to Oz…

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The wonderful Wizard of Oz returns to the big screen today with the release of Disney’s, Oz The Great and Powerful starring James Franco as the Wizard and Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams as the three witches.

When Pop-Break posted its Trailer Tuesday column on this film, our editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin wrote about how he was over the moon excited to see the film. Within moments of posting this column, our film editor Daniel Cohen immediately shot Bill an e-mail questioning his sanity. Why on earth would he ever want to watch a movie, that in Dan’s mind, looked to be one of the worst movies released this year.

So the debate was on and here we are.

Bill Bodkin and Dan Cohen plant their flag on why Oz the Great and Powerful will be a box office triumph or it will crash and burn.

Are the Effects Actually Special?:

Daniel Cohen: People always complain about big-budget action movies looking to much like a video game. Quite frankly, I think this is a criticism that is way overused. But in the case of Oz The Great And Powerful, nothing could be truer. This is one of the most unappealing looking films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s like a Tim Burton movie on steroids. Everything looks so fake, I can’t even stand it. I’m a negative nelly when it comes to CG anyway, but this particular film makes it look even worse because of how incredible the original Wizard of Oz looked back in 1939! The Emerald City in particular looks like Avatar if it had a $9 dollar budget. The image I remember most though from the teaser trailer was the hand of the Wicked Witch scratching the table … ugh. Even if this film is written and acted beautifully, I’m not sure I can move past on how fake and cartoony it looks.

Bill Bodkin: Dan, you and I agree on one major point here — I love the old-school special effects. The practical effects from the days of Hollywood past are just more realistic (in many cases) than the CGI of today. However, I have no problem with a director using the technical tools afforded to him. I have a lot of faith in director Sam Raimi (more on him later) as he’s usually pretty tasteful with his effects choices. And unless my glasses need a stronger prescription the effects don’t look nearly as bad as you make it out.

Is Sam (Raimi) The Man for the Job?:

Dan Cohen: Oh, Sam Raimi. Let me start off by saying that I haven’t seen a single frame of an Evil Dead movie. I know it’s one of those franchises that people worship the hell out of. Horror isn’t my thing, though, so I’ll assume Raimi is a talented horror director for sake of argument. But this isn’t a horror movie. And I know he’s done other things, but I’m sorry, his Spider-Man trilogy sticks out like a sore thumb. With the exception of Spider-Man 2, which is decent, his Spider-Man movies are exceptionally lackluster when comparing it to the other superhero films being made around the same time. The trilogy comes across as very cartoony and juvenile, which are traits I fear he will carry on into this franchise. And yes, I get The Wizard Of Oz at it’s core is childlike and for kids … but you can appreciate The Wizard Of Oz whether you’re 6 or 60, and that will not be the case with this. Plus, listen to how bad some of the dialogue is in the trailer, especially when the Wizard is being swept away in the tornado. “I don’t want to die. I haven’t accomplished anything yet.” Yeah, real subtle. Couldn’t he have edited this out?

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

BB: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room — Spider-Man 3 was awful. It was cinematic diarrhea. Terrible.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Sam Raimi is an inspired choice to direct the new Oz. He has a wonderfully fantastical and macabre mind, which works perfectly for the tale of the land of Oz. Let’s face it, the original had a dark side, and if you’re looking at the best directors who can get the most out of the worlds of fantasy and terror, Raimi is near the top of that list. (My choice would’ve been Guillermo del Toro, but he’s my choice for every fantasy and sci-fi film).

And when it comes to comic-book films, I still maintain the first two Spider-Man films are in the upper echelon. They are thrilling, funny, emotional and grandiose. Also, the fact you’ve never seen an Evil Dead film limits your view of what Raimi can do. Having seen the majority of films he’s done you have to marvel that he’s tackled nearly every genre from horror to Westerns. And in that Western he had Sharon Stone as the lead actress … and it was still a good movie.

The Witches are Great … But James Franco?

DC: When looking at the cast, there are certainly some good names on here, especially with the witches — Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. But as we’ve seen with the Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi’s direction doesn’t always mean stellar performances. Willem Dafoe’s performance as Green Goblin was worthy of a Batman & Robin villain. But that’s going back to complaining about the director, and I want to focus on the Wizard himself, James Franco. Let me just say I’m not shrugging my shoulders because of his Oscar debacle … he’s just not that good of an actor. He’s lifeless in the Spider-Man movies, decent in Rise Of The Planet of the Apes, and overrated in 127 Hours. He has one great scene in 127 Hours, and that’s it. In watching the original, The Wizard is full of charisma and energy … James Franco as this same guy? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. He won’t be able to carry this film, not in the slightest.

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BB: James Franco is a lightning rod — people either love him or hate him. Yes, he wasn’t good in Spider-Man and he had some early missteps (Tristan & Isolde, anyone?) but, I’m on the Franco bandwagon. He’s proven he’s more than a forced-upon-us matinee idol. He’s got a flare for the dramatic (he’s an Oscar nominee for a reason) and he’s pretty damn funny (thanks to Freaks & Geeks and Pineapple Express). His choice as The Wizard is outside the box and could really pay-off.

And again, Raimi’s gotten really great performances out of his casts in the past. He’s directed the likes of Liam Neeson, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio and yes even, Williem Dafoe. Dafoe was great when he wasn’t in that absurd Green Goblin costume.

And when was the last time Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams didn’t absolutely own the movies they’ve been in. Go ahead, think about it … it’ll take you a while. Oh and he managed to get Bruce Campbell into the movie … which is awesome.

Returning to Oz — Good Idea?

DC: The Wizard Of Oz, whether you watched it in 1939 or 2013, earns the rare distinction of ‘timeless.’ We’re talking about a movie made almost 75 years ago. But no matter what age you are, the mention of the title alone instantly kicks in Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin-Man, and the Lion. There have been all kinds of forgettable television adaptations, books, and a quasi sequel in 1985, Return To Oz, that was panned, but now is sort of a cult classic. The original movie itself though is certainly rich in fantasy, and I do think there is more to be tapped in this world. But The Wizard Of Oz is one of those properties that is sacred ground for a lot of people. And even though the production budget on Oz The Great and Powerful is large, I’m just surprised the studio didn’t go all out for this. They released it in a throw away time of year, nobody is buzzing about it, and even the biggest Sam Raimi fan has to admit his stock has dropped the last few years I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re going to bring back The Wizard Of Oz, go big or go home. This movie just feels like a cash grab.

BB: If this were a straight-up remake, I’d 100 percent agree with everything you’ve said. However, the Oz property is such a beloved story that people are just dying for new takes on it. Wicked was such a massive literary and theatrical success for this reason. And it’s true … from The Wiz to the SyFy Channel’s Tinman, we haven’t had a good Oz movie in a longtime. I think that changes here. This is a different spin on the fabled tale; a story which hasn’t been told on the big screen — how did the Wizard come to Oz? It’s something Oz fans have probably wanted for a while — so why not go there?

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It’s a Prequel — Good Idea?

DC: I don’t like prequels.Prequels should be banned from the land of movies. Why do I want to watch something where the ending is already answered for me? And yes, I’m basing all my opinions on that little trilogy that had a bunch of laser swords in it, and burnt us all. You just can’t think of the word prequel without the faces of Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson staring you in the face. Now I know what you’re thinking … what about Star Trek (2009) and X-Men: First Class. Star Trek isn’t just a prequel, it’s a prequel/reboot/sequel all happening at once, which is amazing. And X-Men: First Class works because you didn’t know whether it was a prequel or reboot while watching it. But let’s get back to Oz. Do we really need to see the Wizard became the Wizard of Oz? Who cares? Oh, and I wonder if two of the witches in this will go evil? I’m pretty sure it won’t be Glinda (Michelle Williams), because I’ve already seen the original. If they really wanted to do another Wizard Of Oz movie, it should be set way after the events of the original, focusing on new characters. You could still incorporate characters from the original film, but just aged. And yes, I realize that means new actors. But instead, let’s see the boring story of the Wizard, that from the look of the trailer, will probably be similar to the original in terms of structure and pacing. Only this time it will be with CG characters … yippee.

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BB: Yes, the Star Wars prequels sucked. We all felt the pain. However, as I stated before, this film deals with the lore from the original Oz film which people still hold dear to their hearts. Let’s look back at Wicked, it focused on characters we knew from the movie — and it’s absolutely adored. People do want to see this. In terms of creating new characters — this would garner more heat and criticism from loyal fans because whomever is making it would making up things as they go along. With a prequel at least you’re still using the same characters (for the most part) and are fleshing out stories that were only hinted at in the original film.

What are your thoughts on Oz The Great and Powerful? Leave us a comment and weigh in on this debate.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

1 COMMENT

  1. I was just talking to my friend about this at dinner. The movie, simply, wasn’t that interesting. Because it’s about the Wizard, and he’s boring. There’s not much to him besides the fact that he’s a con man, and we already knew that. Sure, it also tells us about how the Wicked Witch of the West became so wicked, but honestly it did it in a dumb, anticlimactic, run-of-the-mill way. A lover scorned? Oh gee, never heard that one before.

    It’s hard to swallow this when there already is a great, very interesting prequel out there. Wicked (the musical, because the book is a piece of shit) is a completely different take on what happened before The Wizard of Oz. And it’s actually really complex, and teaches us completely new things about the characters.

    Also I personally love James Franco and Mila Kunis, but I found both of their performances to be pretty flat in this film. I really felt Raimi focused more on what looked good in 3D than anything else (and I didn’t even see it in 3D).