Title: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Milla Kunis, Zack Braff
Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful was probably not an easy movie to make for Raimi, especially when we take in consideration that it’s supposed to be an unofficial sequel to MGM’s Wizard of Oz (1939), a film that is revered and loved by many. Aside from keeping audience approval in mind at all times, Raimi had to also deal with a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo from the MGM guys, but I’m getting ahead of myself, let me explain things a bit so you won’t get lost in the magical Land of Oz. You see, L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels became public domain in 1985, so from there on in, anybody could make their own Oz thing, which is how Disney’s Return to Oz (1985) came to be. Now, though Baum’s novels became public domain, whatever original elements MGM came up with for their film is strictly the property of MGM, so Disney or anybody who wants to make their Oz thing, cannot use any of the elements that MGM came up with for their movie. This includes and covers everything from the ruby red slippers (which were never red in Baum’s books), to the green tone on the Wicked Witch’s face! Disney couldn’t even use the wart on the Wicked Witch’s chin because that wart belongs to MGM! So making this new Oz movie must’ve felt a bit like walking on a mine field for Sam Raimi.
Raimi works out a scene with James Franco
Still, I think even though they tried their best to get away from MGM’s film, they still ended up paying homage to it. This is something that they admittedly did entirely on purpose. There are many similarities between MGM’s Wizard of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful, first of all, both films start out in sepia tones and later turn to color once we reach the Land of Oz. We have the singing Munchkin’s and the Wicked Witch flying on a broom, leaving a trace of black smoke behind her. The color scheme for both films is extremely similar, the yellows and greens have that over saturated look. The film looks as if Ted Turner himself had converted the film from black and white to color. My guess is that Raimi and Disney tried to get as close as they could to MGM’s film without breaking any of the legal boundaries. Smart move on their part because the idea that people have of Oz and that world is very closely linked to the old movie. They want that old yellow brick road, they want the same Emerald City, the want those Munchkins. So fans of the old movie can rest assured that this new film is extremely similar to the old MGM film.
Now here’s something I didn’t expect from Oz the Great and Powerful: how closely it resembles Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1993)! Now for those not in the know, once upon a time, Sam Raimi was once a filmmaker struggling to make his way in Hollywood. He made a moderately successful comic book film called Darkman (1990), and so Universal gave him the chance to follow that up with Army of Darkness, the closing chapter of his Evil Dead series of films; a series of films he started making way back in the beginning of his career, with his first film The Evil Dead (1981). After a successful run in theaters, he followed The Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) and ended the whole shebang with Army of Darkness. Now the similarities between Raimi’s Oz film and Army of Darkness are not denied by the director himself. In an interview for Screen Rant he mentions that he was aware of these similarities, and that he tried to get away from them as much as he could, but that at the same time he felt it wouldn’t be much of a problem, since a lot of people have not seen Army of Darkness. In that interview, Raimi also mentions that any similarities between both films cold be blamed on the writer of the script, which existed long before Raimi was ever committed to directing the picture. But if you ask me, Raimi knew exactly what he was doing because the similarities are way too obvious and you know what? So what, I liked it! Oz the Great and Powerful is essentially Army of Darkness but the characters from Wizard of Oz! And made with Disney’s kajillions!
And so, here my dear readers I offer you the similarities between both! There be SPOILERS AHEAD, so you've been warned!
ASH AND OZ
On Oz the Great and Powerful, Oscar Diggs is an illusionist who works in a traveling circus. He is a sleazy guy who lies to the girls and wants to bed them all, he uses sweet lies in order to more easily seduce them. He is a hero, but not entirely. He lies, cheats and scams every chance he gets. In many ways, the great and powerful Oz is an anti-hero. Interested in personal gain, he accepts helping others to achieve his goals, even with all these negative qualities, he ends up becoming a leader and a hero to the people.
In Army of Darkness, Ashley Williams is your regular blue collar worker. He’s sleazy with the ladies and wants to bed them all, telling them stories and using “pillow talk” in order to get to first base. He’s our hero, but not entirely. He is afraid to do what he has to do; he is at times a liar and a coward. But his interest in personal gain makes him help others, even with all these negative traits, he ends up becoming their leader and hero.
HERO GETS WHISKED AWAY TO ANOTHER LAND THROUGH A MAGICAL WORM HOLE
In the ending of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn Ash opens up a portal that is supposed to suck away all the demons and send them to some other dimension, unfortunately, the portal also sucks him in. Ash soon discovers that the portal doesn’t send him to another dimension; it actually sends him back in time! And so, suddenly Ash finds himself in medieval times, becoming the leader of a group of people who are fighting against an Army of the Dead.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, an illusionist known as Oscar Diggs is one day whisked away by a tornado, he soon discovers this isn’t just any regular old tornado, nope, this tornado ends up magically sending him to the strange and wonderful Land of Oz! When he arrives, he finds himself becoming a leader of a group of people fighting against an evil witch and her army.
HERO MUST AQUIRE A MAGICAL ARTIFACT TO COMPLETE HIS MISSION
In Army of Darkness, Ash must retrieve ‘The Necronomicon’, a magical book which the demons (a.k.a. Deadites) have an insatiable hunger for. If he achieves this goal correctly, he saves the people and fulfills a prophecy. In order to retrieve this book, Ash must venture into a spooky forbidden cemetery where the book rests.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, Oz must retrieve a witch’s magical wand, in this way, fulfilling a prophecy that will allow him to turn in the “Great and Powerful Oz”. In order to get this magical wand, Oz must venture into a spooky cemetery to get it.
LOVE INTEREST TURNS EVIL
In Army of Darkness Ash falls for a beautiful maiden called Sheila, unfortunately at a given point in the film, Sheila turns evil when possessed by demons! Sheila tells Ash: “You found me beautiful once” to which Ash replies “Honey, you got reeeeal ugly!”
In Oz the Great and Powerful, Oz falls for the beautiful Theodora, a good witch who dreams of one day becoming Oz’s queen. When circumstances in life tear them apart, Theodora’s hatred for Oz turns her into the proverbial ‘Wicked Witch of the West’.
EVIL ARMIES and ROUSING SPEECHES
In Army of Darkness Ash must train a medieval army in order to fight against the demonic Army of Darkness. Ash gives a rousing speech in which he motivates his army to fight for their land.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, Oz must train The Munchkins, The Tinkers and The Winkies to fight against the Wicked Witch of the West’s evil army. He gives them a rousing speech that motivates them into using their smarts and their cunning in order to achieve this.
EVIL FLYING MONSTERS
In the world of Army of Darkness, there exists such a thing as a ‘Deadite’. What’s a Deadite you might ask? Well, Deadites can come in all forms, but one of the most hideous is the flying demons you see pictured above. In one moment of Army of Darkness, a deadite snatches Ash’s love interest away and flies away with her.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, there exists such a thing as an evil flying monkey; actually, there’s a whole army of them! In one pivotal scene of the film, an evil flying monkey snatches away Glinda the good witch and flies away with her.
GUN POWDER = UPPER HAND IN BATTLE
In Army of Darkness, Ash comes from the future and must learn to live amongst the “primitive screwheads” from medieval times. In order to have the upper hand in the battle against the Army of Darkness, Ash shares his knowledge of gun powder and chemistry with the soldiers of medieval times.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, Oz shares his knowledge of gun powder and fireworks with the people of the Land of Oz so they can use it in their battle against the evil witches.
EVIL EVANORA – SHE BITCH
In Army of Darkness, Ash fights with a possesed old lady whom he refers to as “She Bitch”. He fights with her for a few seconds before blowing her away with his boom stick. In the ending of the film, he fights a similar looking possesed woman, whose ass he also blows away with his boomstick after which he proclaims himself a king.
In Oz the Great and Powerful, Glinda the Good Witch must do battle with Evanora the most evil witch of all, after Glinda beats Evanora, she transforms Evanora into who she really is, an old hag, who looks a hell of a lot like the “She Bitch” from Army of Darkness, and I mean a heck of a lot, it's almost a copy paste type of deal! At the end of the day, Oz ends up being King of Oz.
And that my friends, ends the comparison part of my review!
And that my friends, ends the comparison part of my review!
But of course, the biggest similarity between these two movies is it’s director Sam Raimi. The film might be Disney, and it might be Oz but at times you will also notice it is very Sam Raimi, it has those kinetic camera moves that let you know it’s Raimi behind the cameras. It even has cameos by Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell! Sadly, theres no 1973 yellow Oldsmobile on this one, you know, the car that Sam Raimi puts in all of his movies! But aside from all that, I personally really enjoyed the film, me being a huge fan of the Oz books and films, well, I was having a blast. One of the few flaws I found was Mila Kunis who for some reason didn’t deliver a great performance; her acting dialog delivery felt robotic and unnatural, no real emotion in it. But that’s a minor hiccup. Her bad performance stands out amongst all the other good ones. I mean, James Franco did a good job of portraying Oz equal times sleazy and equal times heroic. But if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be Rachel Weisz, who was great as evil witch Evanora. But Kunis? Left a lot to be desired. Still, even with this minor hiccup, the film ends up being ultra fun, and loaded with tons of visual effects. Yes my friends, this is one colorful mind bending CGI overdose that I recommend checking out on 3D. If you like CGI fests and you like 3D, then you should have yourself a dandy old time!
Sam Raimi goofing around on the set of Army of Darkness
There was something else that I didn’t enjoy in this particular Oz film. You see, the Oz films have always played with the idea that the powers that be are lying to the masses through politics and religion, this is an aspect of these films that I’ve always found daring. Yet, in an interesting turn of events, this time around the film tells us that these lies are something necessary in society, a necessary evil if you will. In this way, it is similar to Life Of Pi (2012), yet another film that tells us that it is better to believe the pretty lie, then live with the awful truth. For this I give the film a point less, why? Because I don’t think the masses need to be lied to, I think people should be told the truth, no matter how “desperate the times”, for what kind of society are we living in if it’s all based on a lie? According to this film, people are lied to because they need a hero, they need hope, they need someone to look up to. Why do films like Life of Pi and Oz the Great and Powerful think it’s a good idea to lie to the people in order to keep them happy? I’d love to see a sequel in which the people of Oz found out that they’ve been had all along; wouldn’t that make an interesting sequel?
Rating: 4 out of 5