Oz the Great and Misunderstood

A beautiful transition from black and white to vibrant colour introduces us to the land of Oz. Yes, the only real sets are whatever the characters are standing on, as the backgrounds are almost always entirely visual effects, but it remains an endlessly charming journey nonetheless. It is a kid’s film that may be a little disjointed and ham-handed, but the sincerity of it all somehow wins over even the sternest curmudgeon. And to this day, The Wizard of Oz (1939) remains a classic of motion pictures.

You thought I was talking about Oz the Great and Powerful, didn’t you? Well, I sort of was, as all that I said there holds true for Sam Raimi’s adventure in the land of Oz. Of course, with the exception of it being a classic, as it is far too early to tell.

Your reaction to those previous statements may highlight the divisive nature of this film. On one side, there are those who dismissed this film as outright bad, and a misstep from an otherwise great director. However, perhaps you saw the film as it was intended to be viewed: as a children’s adventure.

Many adults tend to shudder at the idea of a kid’s film, so it is no surprise that this film received such a lukewarm reception. Especially given the fact that the 1939 film has become a treasured classic among cineastes. It has become so ingrained in the canon of great films, that it is easily forgotten that it is aimed towards a younger audience. One which can suspend its disbelief with much greater ease than their older counterparts.

It is this suspension of disbelief which the 2013 film hinges on so precariously. Those who feel the film must do all the work for them may find themselves noticing the nearly completely digital sets, the obvious instances of 3D gimmickry, and the broad performances. However, what one forgets is that these are all “issues” that are present in the ’39 classic.

Beyond the immediate sets that the actor’s interact with, the visual effects hint at a larger world, whether it be through matte paintings in the background, or the digital landscapes of the modern adaptation. In addition, the gimmickry of the 3D images may be obvious, but consider the 1939 film’s use of colour. In the novel, Dorothy’s shoes (which once belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East) were silver, but due to the recent innovation of colour photography, the original film decided to change them to ruby slippers, thus accentuating the movie’s glorious Technicolor.

All this is not to say that the film in any way matches up to the glorious classic, but instead, I suggest that the film deserves a reappraisal. Indeed there are issues, as the plot is a little disjointed, lacking some scene-to-scene character motivation. The story also suffers from prequelitis. That is, as we are most likely familiar with the state of Oz in the ’39 film, the film doesn’t spend the prerequisite amount of time establishing certain details of the world and its characters. However, it does surprise with a clever feint regarding the true Wicked Witch we know and love.

Ultimately, in the hands of a lesser director, this could’ve been a cheap cash-in with little heart and much corporate soullessness. Yet, with Sam Raimi in the director’s chair, we are treated to hyper-cinema that is so much his bread and butter. The transition from the black and white, Academy ratio opening, to the Technicolor (x100) widescreen of Oz still dazzles after 77 years. It’s hard to imagine any other director being able to capture a nearly eight-decade old sense of wonder. But that’s Raimi for you.

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