No red slippers. No need. Oz works. Color, vivid color, is the star. James Franco as Oscar Diggs is good. The witches Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis) are great, both beautiful and ugly when playing evil and it is Glenda, the good witch, played with complex emotions by Michelle Williams who shines -- radiates -- as her character should. But it is the special effects that steal the show. A prequel to the Wizard of Oz, we have more of this Sam Raimi-directed magic in store for us. Yippee! Raimi, by the way, directed Spiderman 2. Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire wrote this gem.
Slowly this film opens in Kansas in a carnival again in black and white and Oscar Diggs is a two-bit womanizing magician at a small town circus -- a con artist. Michelle Williams appears to reveal her romantic attachment to Oscar just before the tornado swooshes in and suddenly Oscar is up in the air of a hot air balloon running from a body builder he has pissed off royally. The balloon is whisked into the eye of the tornado and in 3D this thrilling, but not as thrilling as when Oscar arrives in Oz. Flowers open up. Bold primary colors shout happiness. Hope. Then streams turn into rivers into water falls into mountains and voila! We are in the Emerald City. Along the yellow brick road Oscar meets a gorgeous witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who believes that Oscar is the Oz that her kingdom has been waiting for. A kind of savior to rescue her people from the evil witch, Glenda. But eventually we learn Glenda is the good witch and Theodora has been duped by her beautiful sister Evanora who is the real wicked witch.
The plot veers from the Wizard of Oz drastically. This film is inspired by the Wizard of Oz, but far from a remake. It stands on its own slippers, tall, glowing and proud to be a fable that will endure in all its fantasy of bold colors for years to come. The costumes are characters in their own right. Music is nonexistent to this ear. Nothing to write home about. The music is in the rhythm of the special effects unfolding in a layered lyrical way. What new image will we see and sure enough there is a new one which greets our senses. Some are terrifying. Some are endearing as in a china doll that has broken her legs. She is the closest we get to Dorothy but she does not wear red slippers. There is a monkey dressed like a valet who is caught in a dangerous vine which strangles. Oscar rescues this darling monkey, Frank, (Zach Braff's voice) who becomes Oscar's sidekick and porter to carry Oscar's valise filled with his magic tricks and potions. There are flying monster-like-monkeys with nasty teeth all big enough to devour you with, my dear. But It is the end which is a tour de force masterminded by a con artist magician turned into the Wizard of Oz that pays for the price of admission. Clever. It works. You will not be disappointed by this wonderful world of the charming and mercurial Wizard of Oz. A tale that can almost convince you that if you believe, you can make dreams come true.
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