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SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW, MARGARET HAMILTON IS SMILING
on April 15, 2013
UPDATE (6/14/2013): Refrain from buying the single 3D-disc version, because you have the option of purchasing the 3D disc for $5.99 on DisneyRewards.com with the combo pack. I discovered this when I went online to get the digital copy with my combo pack. It is for a limited time though, so keep that in mind.
WARNING: ***SPOILER ALERT*** Some things discussed in this review could potentially spoil some of the film for those who have not yet seen it. Therefore, if you have not seen it, read onward at your own choice.
Okay, first thing is first: This review is NOT about the packaging decisions made by Disney for this set or their decision to sell the 3D version separately. I agree with most that it is corporate greed and is quite despicable, but that is not what I am here to review because most everyone can come to that conclusion themselves without people ranting about it endlessly in the reviews. No, this review is an actual critique of the film, so if you are here to get a sense of whether the film's (and thus this set's) actual content is something you're interested in, this review is for you. Naturally, I saw the film in theaters and am writing this review based upon my viewing of the film and observations made during that viewing. I shall attempt to go over the positives and negatives associated with the film in a fair way that can allow others who have not yet seen the film to draw their own conclusions from hopefully.
Before I get into specifics, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize that, given the material the film is coming from and the ENORMOUS shadow it had to work in from the 1939 film, one should not judge this film overly harshly. I think we all know that no Oz film is going to ever fully eclipse the much-beloved and universally cherished 1939 film with Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton. Hence, to even try to overcome such a monumental production is a fool's errand, but so too is the idea of judging any new effort to reboot the Oz saga by comparison to the 1939 film alone. I myself have been a lifelong lover of the 1939 film, ever since I was a small child, and it remains one of the most beloved movies in my collection to this day. I came into this film knowing going in that it would not likely overcome the sheer splendor and magic of the 1939 film, but I also came into it with an open mind and a curiosity to see how they could potentially bring the Oz story into the 21st century. This is how I would suggest all who have not seen it yet to go into it: go in with an open mind and with no preconceptions about the film as best you can.
1) BRIDGING IDEAS FROM THE 1939 FILM WITH IDEAS FROM THE BOOKS: This film did an excellent job of paying homage to the original 1939 film in several ways (i.e. scenes in Kansas were in black and white while Oz was in full color, hints at Dorothy Gale's heritage and eventual coming, the presence and familial relation of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Witch of the East, foreshadowing the Wicked Witch of the West's weakness to water, the classic green-skin variation of the Wicked Witch of the West's look made popular by Margaret Hamilton, Glinda's use of bubbles for transportation, foreshadowing the presence of Dorothy Gale's three friends in Oz, the Wizard's illusions that allowed him to use a projection of his head to speak with authority, etc.) while also addressing several things that were absent from the 1939 film and yet present in the original novels (i.e. Dainty China Country, mentioning of the former King of Oz, Quadlings, Winkies, etc.)
2) ACTING: This is something that cuts both ways, as some actors/actresses were well-suited to their roles going in, while others clearly needed some time to grow into their roles. Examples of the former include Mila Kunis and Rachel Weiz, who give absolutely stunning performances as the Wicked Witch of the West (Theodora) and the Wicked Witch of the East (Evanora) respectively. I must take my hat off to Mila Kunis especially, who had HUGE shoes to fill in taking on the role of Theodora, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, a role which had previously been immortalized by the performance of Margaret Hamilton in the 1939 classic. Kunis put a stupendous modern spin on the character while also paying homage to the foundations for the character that were laid by Margaret Hamilton more than 70 years ago, portraying Theodora in a way many girls like her today could empathize with initially while eventually transitioning her into the classic green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West we all know so well. The same goes for Weiz, who finally gives screen-viewers some insight into the character of the Wicked Witch of the East. She is portrayed as the elder and quite deceitful sister of Theodora who was adviser to and later murdered the last King of Oz so as to take control of Oz herself while framing his daughter, Glinda the Good Witch of the South, for the crime. Both delivered compelling performances that left me wanting to see more of them in the films to come, as did Michelle Williams, who also gave an outstanding performance as the Good Witch Glinda as well as her counterpart in Kansas, Annie, who is foreshadowed to be the mother of Dorothy Gale. I suppose the biggest test any actor or actress faces in portraying a character is leaving the viewer with the desire to see more of them in films to come, and I can definitely say these three more than cleared that bar definitely.
3) VISUALS: This film WOWED me with the visuals and bright colors shown throughout the film. Just as its great predecessor did before it, the film showed the contrast between black and white filming with colorized scenery, and the result couldn't have been more appealing. The bright colors and scenery of the Land of Oz nearly jump right out of the screen at you, and the effect will likely have kids oooing and ahhing over it for sure. The picture quality is simply amazing (see the China Girl for a prime example of this).
4) CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: While some may disagree with this, as an Oz enthusiast for over 25 years, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the character development over the course of the film. Some of the biggest and most well-done examples of character development in the film are that of Oscar Diggs (the Wizard) and Theodora (the Wicked Witch of the West). The film does a good job of showing the Wizard's transition from a petty con-man to the great and wonderful Wizard of Oz we were introduced to in the 1939 film. For example, we are shown that Oscar was originally a womanizing con-man and illusionist that had a dubious set of ethical standards. Over the course of the film, we see him mature and learn from his mistakes and their consequences (the hard way in some cases i.e. the transformation of Theodora). The other biggest example lies with the character of Theodora herself. We are shown the HUGE contrast with how she was originally compared to the version of her we are all most familiar with. In the beginning, we are shown she is a compassionate, beautiful young witch who has the best interests of Oz at heart. Having fallen in love with the Wizard upon his arrival in Oz, Theodora's heart is broken when her sister deceives her and convinces her that he has tried to court all of the three primary witches in Oz. It is at this moment of utter heartbreak that Theodora's tears leave burning scars on her face (foreshadowing her weakness to water that would one day be exploited by Dorothy Gale) and she is deceived into eating a green apple that her sister promises will remove all her heartache. This is however proven to be a deception, as the apple's effects cause Theodora's heart to rot and die, eventually disintegrating altogether. As a result, her face is distorted and her skin is turned a bright shade of green. Donning her now all-black attire including a black pointed hat, she assumes her new identity as the Wicked Witch of the West. Mila Kunis delivers a stunning performance to bring this character development to life for us, and it is a real treat to behold. These are just a couple of examples of the good character development over the course of the film.
1) ACTING: As stated above, this cuts both ways. While the bulk of the cast did outstanding, I will say there is one example where this was lacking in particular. That rested with the titular character (Oscar Diggs) and its actor (James Franco). There were times throughout the film that one could tell Franco was perhaps not the best choice to portray the role of the Wizard. Some examples include over-the-top moments of dialogue ("Zim-zala-bim! Begone coward! Fear my greatness!") and his at times awkward moments in the role. However, I do feel that by the end of the film, Franco had found his stride and was finally comfortable in the role, especially by the time of the film's climax in the battle for control of the Emerald City. The biggest times I noticed this awkwardness/woodenness was earlier in the film, and it is true that initially I felt that perhaps another actor may have been better suited to the role of the Wizard. But by the end, I do feel Franco has grown comfortable and competent enough to continue in the role and perfect his handle on the character.
2) LACK OF A CENTRAL MORAL TO THE STORY: Whereas there was a clear lesson we learned alongside Dorothy during her experience in the Land of Oz depicted in the 1939 classic, it wasn't as clear in this film that there was a central moral to be learned from the story. Whereas Dorothy learned to appreciate and cherish what she already possessed in life, it is unclear what moral Oscar was to learn from his initial experience in Oz. I suppose we may learn that even though some of us may not feel important or powerful, our own personal strengths can make up the difference if we put our minds to it. Beyond that, I was left wondering what we as an audience were supposed to learn from Oscar's experience. It is clear he became a better man and finally learned from his mistakes in the end, but the overall lesson he was to learn was not entirely clear.
3) USE OF STRENGTHS: One of the biggest gripes I had with the film was not in what it lacked, but in what it did possess but which it did not use enough in my estimation. A very big example of this was with the character of Theodora. While we are given a decent amount of screen time to get acquainted with her in her original form as Theodora The Good, we are not given nearly as much time to see her in her classical form of the Wicked Witch of the West. Mila Kunis gave such a wonderful performance as Theodora, and yet when she was at her best and clearly having the most fun with the role (that of her wicked form), we were not given nearly as much screen time to see her fully in action. While Evanora and Glinda have their face-off, Theodora simply flees the city to the West on her recently-acquired broomstick. While it is clear we will see them all again including the Wicked Witch of the West, I still wish they would have given her more screen time to further demonstrate her effectiveness in the role of the witch. This was not the only example of this, but you get the picture.
4) OVER-RELIANCE UPON CGI: One thing that the 1939 classic proved was that it is possible to be highly compelling and visually stunning without Computer Generated Imagery. While the special effects in the film were quite attractive to the eye, there were times (especially over the course of the Wizard's journey through Oz) that it bordered upon overkill. The beauty of the 1939 classic was that we didn't have to have a lot of fancy special effects from computers to make us fall in love with the film. Not that all computer-generated effects are bad, in fact many genuinely did add to the visual beauty of the film. It is just a small complaint when they seemed a little over the top, such as when the Wizard was swept into the twister and transported by it to Oz.
BOTTOM LINE: This was an excellent opening overall to a promising reboot of the Oz saga. As I noted in the beginning, no Oz-related film is ever going to fully eclipse the 1939 classic in the hearts and minds of the American public. However, considering the immense shadow cast over the film by the 1939 film, this film did a much better job than some would expect in measuring up in terms of quality and substance. It is easy to judge this film and others related to the Land of Oz by the standards of the 1939 classic, but that can at times seem a bit unfair, considering how monumental the earlier film is. If some are always looking for the perfection of the 1939 classic in every Oz-related film, I am afraid they will almost always be disappointed. If one can come into this with an open mind however, it is a HUGE treat indeed overall. For those that have not seen the film and are on the fence about it, I STRONGLY encourage you to give this film a shot. It puts a wonderful modern spin on Baum's classic stories, and that is something that is definitely to be celebrated. I am sure especially that somewhere, Margaret Hamilton is likely smiling about the new take on the character which caused her to be immortalized in cinema history.