Movie Review: Oz, the Great and Terrible

This was a rather pretty film, but well, how do I put it? Well, it’s a bit dumb. Ostensibly a prequel to the famous, 1930s MGM film with Judy Garland, this movie doesn’t really convince me that the origin story for the Wizard of Oz needed to be told. It wasn’t a ‘Wicked’ style revision to the Wizard of Oz character; more just a plodding prequel that ruins the entire point of the Wizard of Oz character.

In the original book, the Wizard is a plot device. He sends Dorothy on her quest and is revealed to be a ‘humbug’ halfway through, forcing Dorothy and companion to use their inherent quality halfway through the book, albeit with placebo assistance. Specialness is caused by innate qualities that have to be realised, rather than external influence.

“Hush, my dear,” he said. “Don’t speak so loud, or you will be overheard–and I should be ruined. I’m supposed to be a Great Wizard.”

“And aren’t you?” she asked.

“Not a bit of it, my dear; I’m just a common man.”

“You’re more than that,” said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; “you’re a humbug.”

“Exactly so!” declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. “I am a humbug.”

In the movie, James Franco plays Oz, a two-bit Kansas theatre magician. He’s a bit of a rogue and a con man. In the black and white prequel scene, Oz is duping people, is mean to his friends, and fails to help a little girl walk again at one of his shows, because his magic isn’t real. His girlfriend tells him that she’s going to marry someone else, and then the circus strongman chases him into a balloon, that then gets sucked into a twister.

Luckily, Oz (henceforth, “the Wizard”) is transported to the land of Oz. He’s greeted by the good witch Theodora, and there is a convienient prophecy to be fulfilled. And there are people in the ‘real world’ sequence who have analogues in the bright, CGI world of Oz. The little girl that the Wizard can’t heal in the opening scene because his magic isn’t real is reflected in Oz, where he can heal a china doll girl with some convenient glue. He’s incapable of being nice to his assistant at the circus but is nice later to Finley the winged monkey in Oz. His girlfriend, who leaves him during the real world sequence, has an analogue, Glinda the Good Witch, who later becomes his love interest in Oz. Why is this? What’s the point? I’m not sure. It’s all very self-gratifying – the Wizard is a loser in the real world, but Oz exists to justify him as a hero, which is about 180 degrees away from the actual Wizard of Oz movie.

There’s also plot holes and gaps between this movie and the Wizard of Oz; why do the winged monkeys start working for the evil witch?

And another problem is that the evil witches are all ugly, and that Theodora’s fall into evilness and uglines is caused by a apple that shrivels her heart. It’s a bit perfunctory, and her rage at Oz abandoning her because of his philandering ways isn’t really addressed by the movie; I guess for that, see ‘Wicked’.

So the film is lazy, but pretty, and doesn’t think too hard about its consequences. Still, it’s taught me that in order to become a worthwhile person, all I need is transportation to a convienient magical world where a handy prophecy, the coincidental travelling companions I meet, my own innate skills and no real effort or suffering or consequences on my behalf, will make everything all work out.

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