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Oz the Great and Powerful (3D Blu-ray Review)

7 Jun, 2013 By: John Latchem

Street 6/11/13
Box Office $233.03 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 BD combo, $44.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG’ for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.
Stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams.

Disney making an “Oz” movie always seemed like a natural fit. Walt Disney had wanted to make one in the 1930s, before learning the book rights had been sold to MGM, which went on to make the all-time classic The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

The focus in Oz the Great and Powerful is on how the Wizard first made his impact on the Land of Oz, a backstory briefly mentioned in the 1939 film and expanded upon in the books. In a sequence set in black and white, carnival magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco, who breezes through the role) jumps in a hot air balloon to escape a sticky situation he’s found himself in, and ends up being transported via tornado to the colorful Land of Oz, where it’s prophesized that a mighty wizard would come to rule the kingdom. Oscar, who coincidentally goes by the nickname ‘Oz,’ knows he’s not a real wizard, but is enticed by the riches of Emerald City to embark on a quest to retrieve the wand of a wicked witch. Doing so will let him claim the crown and all that comes with it.

Oz the Great and Powerful is entertaining enough as a children’s fantasy and manages to function rather effectively as a loose prequel to the 1939 film, despite the inevitable disparities between them. Visually, the film is heavily inspired by the 1939 movie, with adjustments made to work around those elements Disney doesn’t have the rights to, such as the ruby slippers (and all the references to familiar aspects of the old movie just make the lack of the ruby slippers seem glaring). It’s as if the filmmakers, led by director Sam Raimi, intend us to imagine that this is what Oz could have looked like back then if the craftsmen behind the 1939 movie had access to 21st century digital effects. 

But if the sets of the 1939 version have, over time, started to look dated and stagey, the new movie looks like it took things too far the other way. The actors look like they’re interacting with extensively CGI’d backgrounds (and the Blu-ray extras reveal just how much work was done with green screens). This doesn’t look too bad in the 2D version, but it really stands out in 3D, especially with the artificial depth already applied to the imagery. Rather than servicing the fantasy elements, it just calls attention to itself as a gimmick.

This is mostly an issue in the early part of the film in establishing the land of Oz, but improves over the course of the film once viewers become accustomed to the effects. And the ending is just terrific and a lot of fun.

Disney’s history with “Oz” is the focus of a nifty featurette on the Blu-ray, primarily Walt’s attempts in the 1950s to make a live-action film called The Rainbow Road to Oz, based on other books in L. Frank Baum’s fantasy series. Walt teased the film on his “Mousketeers” show, but eventually abandoned the movie, making Babes in Toyland and Mary Poppins instead.

In 1985, nearly two decades after Walt’s death, the Disney studio made Return to Oz, an unofficial follow-up to the 1939 movie that is often overlooked outside of its modest cult following.

Since it seems like the plan is to push on with sequels to Oz the Great and Powerful, the looming question has to be whether Disney will eventually remake the 1939 film in the new style (or, more accurately, make a fresh adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is now in the public domain).

A lot of the buzz about the Oz the Great and Powerful Blu-ray has been how the studio is offering the 3D version in a standalone configuration. Those who buy the 2D version can get the 3D disc via mail order for an additional $5.99 (likewise, 3D buyers can get the 2D disc for the same price). All the extras are on the 2D disc, including a second-screen mode, a blooper reel, the aforementioned “Walt Disney and the Road to Oz” featurette and several behind-the-scenes documentaries covering the actors, music, makeup, visual effects and production design.

The DVD includes just the bloopers and the “Road to Oz” piece.

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