Oz the Great and Powerful Blu-ray Review
When it comes to expanding upon the Wizard of Oz universe I’m much more in favor of a complete reimagining like Tin Man rather than a hypothetical prequel dealing with the origin story of the aforementioned “wizard”; especially when said wizard is played by James Franco. It’s not that I don’t like Franco but on any given day I would rather see him cutting off his own arm with a pocket knife than traipsing around an enchanted CG wonderland.
Oz the Great and Powerful is without a doubt a splenderific masterpiece of technological achievement when it comes to CG effects and the skill of all those computer jockeys assembling this movie pixel by pixel, but no matter how good the movie looks it definitely lacks the substance and heart of Dorothy’s tale…and her little dog too. There is a story here but it never really grabs you, let alone tries to carry you through the scenery, so Oz ends up being a very pretty tech demo for your HDTV and sound system.
Franco plays Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a magician struggling to make his way in a black and white Kansas back in 1905, until he is whisked away to the magical (and quite colorful) land of Oz. It is there he meets all sorts of random characters including Theodora (Mila Kunis) who confuses Oscar’s parlor tricks with real magic and assumes he is the wizard prophesized to free the land from the evil reign of the Wicked Witch. He embarks on a quest to kill the witch, venturing into the Dark Forest where he meets up with Glinda (Michelle Williams) the good witch, China Girl (Joey King), and Finley (Zach Braff), one of those flying monkeys. Then its off to Emerald City to add more characters to the mix all leading up to the rather anti-climactic finale.
There are plenty of sound ingredients to work with here, but the recipe is just all wrong. The pacing of the film is all off with a very slow start that slowly ramps up to something mildly entertaining by the third act, and while the characters all have great potential on the page, nearly all of them were miscast including the director. I’m not sure why Sam Rami even considered this project – it is so outside of his wheelhouse. Franco lacks the gravitas to properly play his part and Kunis is ill-prepared to carry her character much further than the second act.
What Oz the Great and Powerful lacks in substance is partially made up for in sheer spectacle with a nearly overwhelming saturation of colors and CG art design, all presented in a stunning 1080/AVC transfer. To accentuate the explosion of colors the film opens in a 1.33:1 B/W box format but once Oscar arrives in Oz the screen widens and your TV explodes with more colors than you thought possible. It’s hard to critique the subtleties of flesh tones and such when everything is so over-the-top, but for the most part everything remains suitably realistic, at least for the human cast. Contrast and black levels are pretty good but there are a few noticeable issues in the darker scenes.
Oz the Great and Powerful delivers a fantastic feast for the ears with a magical DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that will put your home theater to the test. Dialogue is properly prioritized to the front, and the mixing levels for sound effects and the enchanting score are equally as perfect. My subwoofer trembled with frequent LFE and my rear channels were put to expert use to turn my living room into an extension of Oz. This is definitely tech-demo material.
Oz the Great and Powerful offers up several key bonus features that are quite good but still pale in comparison to other similar Disney offerings. Up first is the Second Screen experience so fire up your iPad 2 (or newer) and explore this synced Wi-Fi experience to access content that’s not even on the disc. There is a 10 minute feature exploring Disney’s involving with the Wizard of Ox franchise including its purchase to the rights of all 14 books, then we have a video journal hosted by James Franco that spends 22 minutes going behind the scenes of day-to-day filming. “China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief” is a brief 5 minute look on how this doll was brought to life using a mix of CG and marionettes. “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz” is an 11-minute production documentary on how Oz was reimagined and brought to life, then we have the 8-minute documentary, “Metamorphosis” that focuses on the make-up and prosthetics used to create the Wicked Witch. There is a 7-minute feature that covers the Danny Elfman score and 5 minutes of bloopers that seem a bit forced and awkward; almost like they were trying to make a blooper reel.
Even from the very first trailer, Oz the Great and Powerful just never grabbed me. I never bothered to see it in the theater and I probably wouldn’t have even watched at home if I wasn’t reviewing it. I appreciated the spectacle of it all but the story and this particular cast just didn’t work for me. The prequel lacks focus and imagination, failing to capture the hearts and minds of adults or kids. While Disney’s Blu-ray release is a technical marvel in both visuals and sound, if I want to spend a few hours in Oz you’re better off watching the original movie or even the Tin Man reimagining.