Monday, March 11, 2013



Sam Raimi's "Oz The Great and Powerful" is too odd and, by extension, too fascinating to be as hastily written off as it has been by the critics. Whether it's good or bad is beside the point. It's a genuine curiosity.

Here's a film in which the most affecting performance is given by a tiny stop-motion porcelain figure named China Girl - and in which the live-action actors seem like, well, porcelain figures.

The humans in "Oz" all behave as if they've been lacquered.

China Girl, by the way, is voiced by Joey King, the young star of "Ramona and Beezus" and "Crazy Stupid Love," but her visage and spunky behavior both smack of Ellen Page. In my mind, she was the inspiration.

The film itself is like a lot of modern movies that go through the motions of paying homage to a revered classic. It wants to both exploit and one-up the movie that inspired it, outdoing the original via modern technology while missing the essential ingredient of soul. One is aware that when Judy Garland danced down the yellow brick road in Victor Fleming's 1939 original, she was working on an actual set. Here, one senses the poor actors spent all their time in front of a blue screen.

It's called progress.

But Raimi's one true triumph in "Oz" (aside from China Girl) was the shrewd casting of James Franco as a con man trying to pass himself off as The Wizard. Franco, who I like, has always struck me as something of a charming charlatan off-screen. I'm not sure that I completely buy into the Renaissance Man persona that he's been so eagerly pitching to the media.

Consequently, in "Oz," the real-life James Franco melds seamlessly with the incorrigible Oscar Diggs, the character he's playing on-screen.

Single-handedly, the appealing Franco adds the aforementioned fascination to Raimi's splashy, sprawling but utimately soulless film.

He and China Girl.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Thanks for another great review, and what I take to be an invitation to discuss production design.