When I first heard about the intended prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” I didn’t know what to think. Prequels to established classics are even riskier than straight remakes. Regards of the events of the film, it must set up the original. “The Thing” tried this a couple years back and lost a great deal of the suspense. Does anyone think “Star Wars” episodes I-III are better than the original IV-VI? So when I ventured to Oz this time around, I was curious.
James Franco stars as Oscar, a magician who works for the traveling circus. After a show, a storm rolls in. While trying to flee for dubious reasons, Oscar's hot air balloon that gets pulled into the twister heading toward his previous stage. After a frightening journey through the eye of the storm, he finds himself in a lush new world, Oz. He isn’t there long before he’s being touted as the fulfillment of a prophecy. But Oscar has other plans.
Franco is surprisingly effective in his role. Balancing charm and conscience, he paints the future Wizard of Oz as a showman with a heart, even if it is guarded. Flanked by a trifecta of talented and gorgeous actresses playing the witches of the land (Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis), this film oozes with well-developed characters. Sure, the film has its clichés and formulas, but the film’s heart buoys the experience. And an experience it is.
Having not seen it in 3D, I unfortunately didn’t get the intended viewing. If I see it in theaters once more before it comes out on Blu-ray/DVD, it will be in 3D. The 2D version is just as magical however. The visuals are rich and the special effects are much more believable than I could expect (I hate obvious CGI). With a story that is fun for the whole family and an origin most already know, “Oz” succeeds as great entertainment at a time when good choices at the local cinema are slim. 3.5 out of 5 stars
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