Movie review – Back over the rainbow

2013-03-10 10:00

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Back on the Yellow Brick Road, film makers have paid homage to the great Judy Garland classic, but this ‘prequel’ stands alone as a fun fantasy film, writes Gayle Edmunds.

Director Sam Raimi has used the universe of Oz, as created by L Frank Baum, to imagine Oz before the wizard, to contemplate how he came to be Oz the Great and Powerful.

Like the original film, this one begins with black and white sequences in Kansas, where a con man and womaniser, Oz (James Franco), performs magic shows for a pittance.

When the carnival strongman discovers Oz has had a dalliance with his wife, Oz jumps into a hot air balloon and is transported to a fantasy realm.

The special effects in this sequence are spectacular, enhanced to magical levels by 3D technology.

The film pops with colour and wonder.

After the success of the monochrome The Artist last year, the novelty of using black and white is still?very much in vogue.

In the original Wizard of Oz film, back in 1939, seeing black and white was still the norm, so when the film appeared in all its Technicolor glory it had that desired wow factor.

For a modern audience, it’s the other way around. Black and white is quaint and noteworthy, and colourful techno-wizardry is expected. Anything less and we’d be wanting a refund.

In none of Baum’s 14 novels about Oz does he tell the back story of the wizard, so this film will delight fans, but I wondered if it would have delighted Baum.

After all, he was a man who fought hard for women’s suffrage, who populated his stories with women doing all that men can do and never bothered with romance because he was writing children’s stories and he believed kids found love dull and incomprehensible.

Here, screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire have created something of a love triangle to tell the original story of Oz.

Oz, fresh from being chased by the jealous husband, is delighted to find himself welcomed to this strange new land by a beautiful young woman, Theodora (Mila Kunis).

She is soon under his spell, believing him to be a wizard from prophecy who will save Oz from a wicked witch.

Oz is happy to play along and they set off down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City.

Along the way, they come across a winged monkey in distress, Finley (Zach Braff), who acts as Oz’s much-ignored conscience.

Evanora (Rachel Weisz) is the second witch Oz meets and she, too, appears to fall for his charms, but she insists that he kill the wicked witch before he can claim his throne and a pile of gold.

The final witch in the mix is Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) – whom Evanora says is the wicked one – and on his way to find her he comes across a smashed china girl whom he helps with a little glue.

Before long, Oz has a string of damsels whom he has saved from distress and also completely charmed.

While Theodora wrestles with the fact that he’s untrue, and finds her wicked side into the bargain, Glinda quickly works out that he’s not who the people of Oz think he is.

But he is perhaps what they need.

Like the original film, this one functions as an elaborate dream sequence in which rights are wronged, and in which a man who wishes for greatness can find something better: goodness.

It’s a story in which a girl who can’t walk can find a miracle, and where love passed by can be caught up with.

The books were written as if Oz is a real place and I would have preferred it that way in the film.

It’s a little bit of a letdown that the place turns out not to exist.

The original film-makers created the dream sequence in the belief that their audiences wouldn’t buy into the fantasy, but for a modern audience weaned on Harry Potter and Twilight the fantasy element is what sells.

Spiderman’s helmsman Raimi brings the magic of that trilogy to this new venture, making use of all the tricks in his ­tech arsenal and movie-goers will be hard-pressed to find fault with this Hollywood homage to an film that may have been tough to birth, but which came to represent the golden age of Tinseltown.

It is a great pleasure to go backover the rainbow for a few hours and marvel at the magic film-makers can still weave.

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