Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Last night my cousins and I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful in the theater. I loved it. I probably enjoyed it more than most people in my age group. But I am one of those weirdo artists, so I like a lot of things that "Normal" people my age don't like. Stylistically Oz is similar to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, just less dark. It is a very colorful, fantastical film.

I have always liked the Wizard of Oz. I saw the first film when I was little. I remember mom being hesitant about letting me see it because she was afraid I would be scared of the witch. As far as I remember, I wasn't. Later when I got older I read the book and realized that whoever made the movie didn't do a very good job following the book. Those ruby slippers? They were supposed to be silver shoes. Glinda the good witch of the North? In the book she was from the South, and The good witch of the North was a completely separate character. The Emerald City? Not even green. Everyone was required to wear green tinted glasses while in the city, and they all just thought it was made of Emeralds. To top it all off, in the book everything really happened, but in the movie, it was revealed in the end to have all been a dream after Dorothy hit her head and blacked out. These differences were not all necessarily bad things, but there were also many many scenes cut out of the book, and ever since then I've wanted to see a more faithful adaptation of the book. This movie was not it. But I don't care.

This version acts more like a prequel to the MGM film, while incorporating more elements from the book, but the writers put their own unique spin on everything as well. Dorothey is not featured at all, instead the movie is about the Wizard, whose name is Oscar, but his stage name also happens to be Oz. The film tells how he came to Oz and eventually became their ruler. It is not based on any of the books, but borrows elements from them.

Like the MGM film, the movie starts out in black and white (Sepia Tones) and then becomes color when The Wizard arrives in Oz. Unlike the MGM film, in addition to the change in color, it also switches aspect ratios, and goes from a confining, square, full screen picture, to a much more open widescreen picture. The effect was great and it was probably one of my favorite things about the movie.

Also like the MGM film, there are only three witches in the movie, but which witch is which is not revealed right away. I'm not sure if they even called any of them the witch of the North, South, East, or West, so there may still be a fourth witch living in Oz who was not featured. The witch of the North was a very minor character in the book anyway, so it doesn't bother me that she never showed up.

Thankfully the Emerald City really is Emerald. It looks almost exactly like the Emerald City in the MGM film. Which, in my opinion, is a very good thing. That was one part of the book I really disliked. Even as a kid I thought it was so stupid to trick people into thinking the city was all green. What was the point?

One thing I appreciated was the incorporation of the China Country from the books. That always stuck out to me as one of the biggest omissions from the MGM film. Even though it was not integral to the overall plot, it has always been, in my mind, one of the biggest differences. The only change was a sign in the background that called it "China Town," instead of the China Country. I suppose this was some sort of joke, given that the town is made of China, and not inhabited by people of Chinese descent.

Another thing I really liked were the allusions to various characters from the books. In the beginning, a woman named Annie that Oscar seems to be in love with, tells him that she is now engaged to a John Gale. Given that Dorothy's last name is Gale, I think it is safe to assume that this woman is her mother. The scarecrow was hinted at as well, in the form of an army of scarecrows used to defeat the witches. I wonder if one of these scarecrows will eventually be brought to life as the scarecrow that Dorothy discovers on her way to see the wizard. The Cowardly Lion himself also made a very brief appearance, and he was actually a real lion! Though he has become a very iconic character, I never liked that in the MGM film he was a just man in an extremely unconvincing lion costume.

Thankfully the end did not reveal the entire movie to have all been a dream like the MGM version did. That was one thing I really grew to dislike. It didn't bother me when I was a kid, but as I got older and thought more about the implications of it, it seemed such a cheat for her to have gone through all those incredible adventures only to wake up and discover that none of it happened at all. I was very glad that this film seemed to follow the book and have all the events really happen. I say "Seemed To Follow" because this version also used the idea of having several actors play double roles as both a character in Kansas and then as a completely different character in Oz. In the original film this was because Dorothy dreamed the whole thing and her subconscious used people from her real life to populate the world of her dream. I hope this was just a nod to the original film and not meant to suggest that Oscar just dreamed the whole thing.

Aside from the things that were based on the book, or based on the MGM film, there was a lot to love that was completely original to this film as well. For starters, there is the entire story. It is all brand new. I love stories where a bad guy becomes a good guy, and though Oz was not necessarily a "Bad Guy" he definitely was not a good guy. He started out as a selfish con man but by the end of the movie he had completely changed his ways. On the opposite side of the coin, there is also the character development of the Wicked Witch of the West. That was a new twist on the story that I really liked as well. I won't give away any of this aspect of the plot because it is one of the big "Reveals" later on in the film.

I also liked the creatures and plants used in the movie. In stark contrast to the dull sepia tones of Kansas, when Oz arrives in Oz everything is completely saturated with rich colors. It was like candy for eyeballs. Very similar to Wonderland when Alice first gets through the door after falling down the rabbit hole. I loved the little birds that looked like hummingbirds, but also had a hint of peacock in them. I also liked that the flying monkeys seemed to be of at least two separate species. The Wicked Witch employed a fleet of ferocious baboons who fly using bat-like wings, but there is also a much tamer species, at least one of which can speak English, who have bird-like wings. I like the idea of more than one kind of flying monkey. I think it would be cool to see flying apes as well. A flying gorilla with huge wings would be awesome.

If you have already seen this movie and enjoyed it as much as I did, then you will be happy to know that Disney is already working on a sequel. Eventually I hope that they will get around to adapting more books in the Oz series into films as well. When I first heard that this one was coming out I bought the complete series for my kindle, and I have been slowly making my way through them. Even if they just use these books as inspirations, like they did for this film, there is so much to work with. The land of Oz is only one land out of many that L. Frank Baum created, and I would love to see more of his work brought to life on the big screen. This is one of the rare times that I wouldn't care if they followed the books closely or not. A lot of them are simplistic stories with not a lot of conflict that just really would not make for a good feature length movie. But taking ideas, locations, characters, creatures, and some of the basic plots from the books and crafting them into a screenplay, could make for an awesome movie, provided they can get a writer who will do justice to the source material.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. If you're an Oz fan, or if you liked Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, then you owe it to yourself to go see it.

P.S. I never reviewed it on my blog, but I loved Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, and for those who are interested, Disney is also working on a sequel to that movie. I am really looking forward to both!

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