As we wrote here, the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie. It informs everything I do. In addition to my main post on the film, there are another 50 posts closely related to it here, and really, hundreds, even thousands of other posts on this blog owe something to my exposure to it. So I make no claim of “objectivity” here. But, as ought to be far better known, no critic is ever objective.
By “new Oz Movie” I of course mean Oz the Great and Powerful, and by “crap”, I mean the stuff that comes out of the back ends of zoological creatures. At least the first half hour is, and that’s all the New Improved Duchess and I could stomach before grabbing our coats and stomping out of the cinema muttering dark promises of revenge. This was on the heels of something like eight previews for eight apparently identical movies, the combined weight of which made me want to slit my wrists. Granted they’re targeting the ads to the kids who might be coming to the Oz joint, but really that’s no consolation, given all the violence and the absence of imagination on display. I’d say they’ve all merged together in my head except there’s no need for them to, they’re all the same, what with time travel to the past and future, alien takeovers, people flying and jumping off cliffs, asteroids slamming into earth and other obligatory fireballs — all of these events present apparently in every single movie, which I think I will call Iron Man 3 Star Trek 2 After Earth Host The Croods. Really, why play video games? Apparently there is ONLY video game reality, onscreen or off. My stomach was in knots, my knuckles were white from grabbing the armrests, and the feature hadn’t even started yet. “Somebody let me off of this crazy ride!!!!”
Then we came to the movie and my stomach turned to cast iron with what seemed to be flaming bats flying around inside it. I take the blame. The fault is mine that we attended at all. The New Improved Duchess already knew it was to be hated, but I had liked what I’d seen of the visuals in the ads and so held out hope.
And I still like the visuals! When the DVD comes out, I may rent it and watch the film in its entirety with the sound turned all the way down. (The New Improved Duchess didn’t even like the way it looked but I’ll let her do the complaining about that). At any rate, the only saving grace I could see was the art direction and cinematography; those aspects of the movie so much outclassed the script and the acting that I think of Sam Raimi’s job here as being much like that of a funny acquaintance of mine, a book editor who refers to herself as a “turd polisher”. Here Raimi was handed not just lemons, but also a bowl of shit. And while one can make lemonade out of lemons, it doesn’t really matter if it also contains shit now, does it?
How were these particular people (I blame the producers and screenwriters) given the keys to one of our most important American literary franchises? People whose apparent vision for tapping into the power of this imaginative, fantastical, magical series of storybooks is to denude it of any magic? The dialogue, not to put too fine a point on it, is garbage, lacking wit, charm or whimsy, evoking neither L. Frank Baum’s original books nor the 1939 MGM film (which, granted, had about ten writers, not counting the actors who also contributed some of their own lines). How are we supposed to be transported to an elevated state of reality when everyone talks like teenagers having an argument at the mall? Bad enough that all the other characters talk that way. But to have THE WIZARD OF OZ talk that way? The character as previously conceived is by definition VERBAL, dexterous with language. He manipulates words like balls and cups in all previous versions. In the 40 minutes or so of the film I saw, the writers made but one attempt to make the Wizard sound like the mountebank he theoretically is and they fumbled even that. (The word they give him to speak is “prestidigitatic”, which only creates the impression, as far as I can see, that the Wizard, and his writers, are illiterate.)
But that’s okay, because no one I saw on the screen appears qualified to speak any worthier lines anyway. James Franco as the Wizard is the most egregious of the walking black holes, but I scarcely saw anyone onscreen outclassing him. I felt like I was watching some high school play, one employing only the remedial students. Can no one talk any more? I mean, this is a general note to Hollywood! Why is ANY professional actor who has not been cast as a lowlife or a hoodlum MUMBLING, slurring words? I get the distinct feeling that the producers are in the back office saying, “We don’t want to alienate audiences. We want people to relate to these characters.” Uh, no you don’t! This is the Land of Oz! Hey, I don’t RELATE to ANYONE who lives there, man! They have ten foot tall talking flowers there, you know what I mean? We’re supposed to relate to Dorothy, maybe, as our usual Virgil on our forays into Oz. But witches, magicians, monkeys? No way! And I believe that I can sympathize with people who are different from me just fine without identifying with them to that extent, thank you very much. If I need people to be exactly like me in order for me to sympathize with them, the world has a serious problem. And you know what? It does.
At any rate, to belabor the language point (not an insignificant one to this writer) one portion of our story is set in America at the turn of the last century, a time when people commonly received elocution in grammar school, and when professional theatrical people (like the Wizard) prided themselves upon it for their livelihoods. No one would even think of going on a stage at whatever level without a command of the basic principles of diction, enunciation and projection. L. Frank Baum’s aunt was LITERALLY an elocution teacher. That WAS the gig. Franco talks like some cowboy who’s only been talking to his dog for the past eight months. And the rest of the movie is set in a fantasy land, which one might think ought to be populated with creatures who don’t need to talk like they live next door to us in our suburban cul-de-sac. But, no.
Okay? So Franco’s Wizard as presently conceived, can’t talk but he’s very good at putting the make on women. This is a new rub. And why it’s introduced into a children’s story I don’t know. First a couple of babes back at the carnival, and then, once a tornado transports him to Oz, an inappropriately hot, sexualized “good witch” played by Mila Kunis. She is dressed for some reason like someone’s slutty aunt at a wedding, with leather pants, go-go boots and a lot of cleavage. Once upon a time, little girls dressed like Billie Burke’s Glinda for Halloween. Now -? Thanks! Thanks, Hollywood!
I’ve gleaned from other sources that Kunis’s character “goes bad” over the course of the story. Perhaps this costuming is supposed to be foreshadowing? I really don’t care. Why is sex an element in this story AT ALL? And why are we telling this story? There are DOZENS of awesome Oz books already in existence. Why dream up a new, boring, prosaic backstory for the Wizard, one that reduces him to a 1910 approximation of Vinnie Barbarino?
When Rachel Weisz showed up a good ways into the movie, I said, “Oh, thank god, someone who can actually speak better than a trained chimp.” Because she was the first actor in the movie, out of dozens we’d met up til that point, who didn’t apparently have a mouth full of chewing tobacco. But by that stage we really had to split. We had been especially offended by the supposed comic relief, Franco’s cruel torture of a small monkey, forcing him to carry a heavy valise that he could easily carry himself. Hilarious! This is our hero? What depraved, soulless, knuckle dragging retards put this movie together??? I found the entire evening so dispiriting, I’m not kidding, that it will likely be a very long time before I allow myself to be tricked back to a mainstream, first-run movie theatre again. I told the Duchess, “That tears it. I’m packing my bag and moving to France”.
So, we won’t, as we usually do, link you to any theatres or show times for this film. We prefer that no one sees it. Instead, please watch a far superior Oz movie. As it happens, today is the birthday of William Selig, a real life man who was just about as much like the Wizard of Oz as it is possible to get. See my full bio on him here. The Selig Polyscope Company made the very first film version of The Wizard of Oz in 1910. And here it is: