Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, and although filmmakers rarely attempt to get so close to such celebrated cinematic territory, thanks to the strong ensemble cast and a witty screenplay, this feature is all but set to prove the sceptics wrong, as Raimi takes us back to the Land of Oz with great success.
We begin in Kansas (sound familiar?) where small-time magician Oscar 'Oz' Diggs (James Franco) is vying to make a success of himself, despite his somewhat dishonourable morals. However when his mindless narcissism and rather misogynistic nature lands him in a spot of bother, he escapes via a hot air balloon, only to get caught up in a hurricane and eventually find himself in the Land of Oz. Upon his arrival he is greeted by a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who claims he is the wizard the land has been crying out for, back to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and claim his rightful throne. Although knowing he isn't quite who he is believed to be, the promise of gold lures Oz in - however, when he meets fellow witches Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) only to hear wildly conflicting tales, he has to work out who to believe, in a bid to save the land and its inhabitants from evil.
Although entering a world that is affectionately familiar to the vast majority of film fans, Raimi certainly isn't attempting to tread on anyones toes, as this picture plays out like a homage to what came before, rather than a mere attempt to emulate the famous Victor Fleming production. It stands well as a lone feature, and one with a big heart. The idea of second chances – reincarnation if you will – are rife within the film, as Oz wasn't the nicest of folk back in Kansas, and the victims of his selfish nature – such as his sidekick Frank (Zach Braff), for example – returns as the flying monkey Finley in the Land of Oz, allowing our protagonist the chance to make amends for his former actions.
Franco is impressive in the lead, helped along by a brilliantly constructed character – as his tainted, imperfect personality works well, as they humanise him, which is essential as we enter this mysterious and magical world through his perspective, watching on as the surrealism surprises him as much as it does us. Williams is the other stand out performer, and although playing a role with little depth, she has this graceful screen presence and manages to bring her unhinged, vulnerable demeanour to Glinda.
One of the finest aspects to Oz the Great and Powerful is the visual experience that Raimi provides for his audience, truly bringing the enchanting environment to life. Enhanced – much like The Wizard of Oz – by presenting the film in black and white when in Kansas, and moving into colour as soon as we reach the Land of Oz. The 3D is also brilliantly used, as Raimi actually implements it to its full potential, which, surprisingly, many other filmmakers seem to shy away from. Raimi on the other hand uses layering effectively, and throws in various sequences where it looks like things are coming straight towards the audience, provoking the occasional, embarrassing moment where you put your hands over your face to defend yourself. No? Perhaps that's just me, then.
The film does dip throughout the middle stages however, as the story gets a bit overbearing and monotonous. The first half an hour is brilliant, and the final quarter of an hour is equally as entertaining, yet unfortunately everything in between is not quite of the same standard. Nonetheless Oz the Great and Powerful maintains a consistent level of joviality, not taking itself too seriously at all, making for a good, fun day out for all the family.