Sam Raimi and Disney’s latest outing has come in with mixed reviews. So how was it really? First off let me say this. I am a TRUE Oz fan. I have read all fifteen original L. Frank Baum books, as well as a handful of short spinoffs that were considered continuity. I own Skottie Young’s graphic novel interpretations, as well as the original special edition of MGM’s Wizard of Oz, and the sequel Return to Oz by Disney. I consider myself an expert on the world as far as a fan can be.
Though I wish that the original 1939 movie had stuck closer to the book (ala the silver shoes being ruby slippers, and origins of tinman etc) I don’t think that that movie should EVER be redone. Judy Garland IS Dorothy, and while I’d welcome sequels and prequels I just don’t think anything should be done with that movie. It is TOO classic. So all of that aside, where does Oz the Great and Powerful come in. I will say this… I’m giving it a 9 out of 10 flying monkeys. That’s right, As an Oz fan, this really pleased me well, (as well as my wife and 2 year old boy, and 4 year old girl who sat through the whole thing without issue). There’s my rating. Now I will get into some of the MINOR SPOILERS. I won’t reveal too many, but if you don’t want to know, then come back after you’ve watched.
The story begins with credits and music by Danny Elfman. The man knows how to make a theme song, and while this one won’t stick as well as his Batman 1989 theme, it still gives you this fantastical feel that immediately brings you into the movie. I saw this film in standard format, but I wish I’d have seen it in 3D. I may still go back to do that, because I felt immersed in the world of Oz nevertheless. I could tell that the 3D was done properly, and from what I’ve heard it was amazing.
Then, in tribute to the original 1939 film, Oz the Great and Powerful opens in a square format black and white setting of 1905 Kansas. This story is a prequel to that classic movie and Baum’s first book. It really does well explaining the back story of how the Wizard got there, as well as the origin of a few other characters. James Franco, while I find is either hit or miss in his acting, did a great job as Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (or to make it short, he just goes by Oscar Diggs). I was glad to hear why he was called Oz. The novels do mention his full name, and Franco recited the nine names as if they were his own. Oz is a circus magician who is egotistical, pompous and a womanizer. He is a selfish man who will eventually have to make choices and find the good within him.
Zack Braff as his assistant and Finley the Monkey was one of the highlights of the movie as well. The circus shows Oz’s act, and him escaping from the wrath of a strongman. You’ll see why, I just don’t want to give away everything. There are a few hidden Easter Eggs lying around. You’ll notice that the name of the circus is Baum Brother’s circus. A tribute to the author and creator of this fantastic world. Zach Braff’s character was referred to by Oz as a baggage carrying monkey (which he portrays in Oz). Glinda has a counterpart in Kansas, and a crippled girl is recreated in Oz as the China doll princess. This all of course is in tribute to the 1939 film, where real characters end up in Oz being something else or having similar dopplegangers.
Once Oz makes it to the Land of Oz, the black and white as well as the square format, expand into a beautiful world of color and widescreen. You really feel as if you are in the Land of Oz during the whole story. Immediately we are introduced to Theodora the good. From anyone who is familiar with Oz lore, Theodora eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. The cool thing is that you find out why, and actually see her transformation from the stunning Mila Kunis into the hideous witch in this movie. Is she the main villain? no, but she is definitely a perfect and welcome addition. Her tranformation from sweet Theodora into the Wicked Witch is truly frightening and amazing. They even address the whole water being harmful thing.
A few things I noticed that I didn’t like. 1) there are parts of the CG world that seem a little too cartoony, but I’m sure they look better in 3D. regardless, they are stunning visuals. Most of the visuals blend well though. 2) Mila Kunis as the witch of the west was not as wicked seeming as Margaret Hamilton’s 1939 version, but keep in mind that this story is probably a good 30 to 40 years before that movie. The reason I say this is the age of the characters. Oz, Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda are much younger looking in this movie, and it shows sort of how much time is between the two. Mila’s voice in parts was spot on, but not as convincing in others.
Evanora on the other hand (Played by Rachel Weisz) was truly evil. She is the Wicked Witch of the East (you know, the one who gets splattered by Dorothy’s house in Wizard of Oz.) She is manipulative and cunning in her ways. A brief cameo by the Cowardly Lion made me tingle with excitement, as well as a pre-origin to the scarecrow.
As I mentioned earlier Finley the monkey was a great character, but the China doll princess was touching to say the least. Her animation was flawless, and you really cared for the character. She was a welcome addition, and so was China country, which was a major focus in a few of the Oz novels. How Oz comes to find the good within himself, as well as Glinda’s use of her bubble transporting, and the final battle to defeat the witches was really great. I was on the edge of my seat.
Michelle Williams as Glinda the good was very believable. She seemed like a true force for good, and to see her actually face off in a magic battle with Evanora was a perfect ending. Other mentions are the munchkins with their musical number, as well as the people of Oz. They were perfect recreations from the books, and needed in this story.
As emotional as the ending to the Wizard of Oz made me when I originally saw it, the emotions are cued in here as well. Oz giving the main characters “gifts” and how it is done, is touching.
It was announced the other day that Disney had greenlit a sequel based on how projections would be. I will own this movie on DVD, and highly recommend to any fan of books or the films, to go see it in the theater as well. So what could they do in a sequel? I think it would still be another prequel to Wizard of Oz. Here are my reasonings. Much seems to still happen between the end of this movie and the beginning of the original. There are decades in between. So what could happen in the sequel/prequel? Here are my predictions/suggestions:
1) Evanora is in her true witch form now, but she hadn’t had the Ruby (silver) slippers. How did she get them, and what did she do with them to be a threat to Oz. Where in the East did she settle? 2) Theodora is now in charge of the Winkies, and in control of the Flying Monkeys. How did she get them out of the Poppy field? Did she build her wicked castle in the West? What did she do in those years between? 3) China Country in the books was a major setting. How did it get rebuilt? 4) Showing the origin of the Tin Man, and how he rusted. I actually believe that if a sequel was made, he’d be the central character as a human. In the books, a witch (assumingly the witch of the East Evanora) was jealous of his love for a Munchkin. She enchanted his axe which ended up cutting off all of his human parts, which ended up being replaced in tin by the tinkerers (who were introduced in this movie). Oz doesn’t need to even be in a sequel, as the story of Tinman could be the focus.
If Disney needs ideas, they should contact me. haha. Or Skottie Young, whose interpretations of the books in graphic novel form are flawless. Not to mention that he is doing these comics for Marvel, which Disney owns, so he’s already in the family. Bottom line is: Ignore those who are critical because they have no idea what they are talking about.
One other point to mention. There is an animated sequel to the Wizard of Oz coming out later this year called “Dorothy of Oz”. I can’t wait to see what they bring in, but I can’t imagine it will capture the classic feel that this one has.
Sam Raimi created the Spiderman movie universe as we know it today, and although The Amazing Spiderman is an entire reboot, the man deserves a round of applause (in most cases). Let’s take a look at all three Spiderman films by Raimi, and assess them as a whole.
I’ve come up with a new grading system for my movie ratings, and will apply it here.
1. CASTING: Tobey Maguire IS Spiderman/Peter Parker. I’m not knocking Andrew Garfield at all, but I don’t think you could pick a more fitting actor than Maguire. The second he was cast in the roll, I said, “This is going to be epic.” and he proved that thought.
Kirsten Dunst on the other hand was not in my opinion Mary Jane Watson. She is a great actress don’t get me wrong, and she is attractive, but MJ was the girl I grew up with in the comics. She was drawn to be a very sexy model and was womanly in every aspect of her look. Dunst did not make my childhood fantasies come real, as I didn’t see her that way. Still, she did a fine job acting, I just wish they would have thought about this casting.
Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin. As the Goblin, I thought he was perfect when it came to voice and him playing the part (I really like the test mask they did and wish they would have used that instead of the power ranger we got, but I got used to it). He didn’t have much screen time as a sane Norman Osborne, so that one is hard to judge.
James Franco as Harry Osborne / The New Goblin. No, no and no. Look, he’s a great actor and I have immense respect for his talent, but as Harry? No. His Goblin portrayal didn’t even fit the comic part.
Alfred Molina as Doctor Otto “Octopus” Octavius was perfect. Other than Elton John looking the part, Molina was a great selection.
Thomas Hayden Church as Flint Marko aka Sandman. Perfect Casting. I was excited about this as much as about Tobey/Spidey.
Other roles: J Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Betty Brant, Bone Saw McGraw, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Curt Connors, Gwenn Stacey and Captain Stacey were all excellent choices in my mind. Flash Thompson not so much. He didn’t do a bad job, I just didn’t think he looked the part, and wasn’t as dumb as he seemed in comics.
2. The PLOTs:
Spiderman 1’s plot was an origin story. They did everything they could to fit in what needed to be, and it worked well. Spiderman 2’s plot in my opinion was the best of the three. It was original and felt like Peter really had challenges ahead of him, and really spoke of originality. Spiderman 3 started out great and then somehow joined my previous night’s dinner in the crap filled sewers. They had potential, but jammed way too much in there. It was rushed, and because of this, they strayed too far from the comics.
3. VISUAL EFFECTS:
All three movies really shine here. I have no complaints at all about any of these.
4: CONTINUITY WITH THE COMICS:
Every fan wants their favorite stories to be interpreted correctly. Where most of the following complaints are outweighed by everything else, there are some problems I had. Green Goblin looked like a power ranger, and the New Goblin was downright awful looking. Uncle Ben’s killer being revealed in the third one as the Sandman was terrible. Organic web shooters? I hated it, but realized why they did it and learned to accept it. Genetically altered spider instead of radioactive? Not a bad change. Venom speaking normally instead of in the third person, and having too much of Topher face time was a disappointment. Not to mention that they killed him too quickly and he should have gotten another movie. Oh, and Sandman does NOT fly!!!! The end of the first movie with Goblin on the bridge was a great tribute to the comics, but brings in my next point… MJ should not have been the first girlfriend. What about Betty Brant? She was in the movie. What about Gwenn Stacey who didn’t show up til the third and should have been on the bridge in the first? What about Felicia Hardy? Too much skipped over to have a whiney Peter Parker sulk in his spandex by the middle of the third movie. The Venom symbiote would have been easily done with Jameson’s son returning from space, but for some reason they didn’t do that. When Peter became violent with the Black suit though, they got that right.
5. DIRECTION AND USE OF CHARACTERS:
Direction wise, Sam Raimi did a great job overall. He made some vital errors in the third one, but I blame that on Sony for rushing what he wanted to do, and insisting that he make Venom a main character instead of setup for the next movie. Also, Peter Parker’s little mood swing and dance scene was ridiculous. Look, I love ridiculous humor, but Spidey is already sarcastic. Why make him annoying? Some of it was a bit over the top, but acceptable, and I’d have liked Betty Brant played by Elizabeth Banks to have a bigger role. Despite costume changes, I think he captured the essence of the characters. EXCEPT for Venom not speaking in the third person. Did I mention that already? Yes I did. It bothered me too. Other than that, he updated the stories to fit well in current society at the time.
All of the acting was done well. My only two problems were with James Franco and Tobey Maguire. Franco seemed a little too dry in his portrayal of Harry. His emotions were often unbelievable. And speaking of emotions, Tobey played a little too much of a cry baby. Sure both of these can be blamed on the director, but the actors are at fault as well.
From Danny Elfman’s musical compositions to the selection of songs in the movies, there could not have been better soundtracks.
8. HOW THE AUDIENCE CAN RELATE:
Look, the bottom line is that in order to have a great movie, the audience needs to relate to it in some way. They need to like the characters or hate them and understand to some extent what is going on at an emotional level. The death of Uncle Ben, Peter’s Financial troubles, juggling school work and a job, having a boss that is ungrateful and being bullied are all things that the audience could sympathize with. You really do feel bad for Peter Parker at times throughout these movies. Then there is that award winning upside down kiss in the rain. It’s probably the best movie kiss in history, and melts all the ladies’ hearts. At an even other level, in Spiderman 3, Peter is an emotional wreck with the black suit. That is when the audience feels like screaming, “Stop being a sissy!” It is almost laughable, yet on all fronts, the emotion was present, and people could relate.
9. EASTER EGGS:
For any of you who might not know, an Easter egg in a movie is a hidden item, reference or inside joke between the director and the fans. The Spidey movies have plenty of them. Let’s begin with Bruce Campbell. He is a longtime friend of Sam Raimi’s, and the star of his Evil dead series. He has had plenty of other work with the director as well and is considered the king of B movies. “The Chin” as his fans call him, can be seen as the referee, the guard at the door to MJ’s play, and the French Maitre d in Spiderman 1, 2, and 3 respectively.
Stan Lee, who created most of the Marvel Comics universe, cameos as a guy who saves a girl from falling debris in Spiderman one. He also had a cameo that was cut involving him selling a pair of sunglasses to a kid and saying, “It’s like the one they used in the X-men movies.” In the third movie, Stan the Man is reading a newspaper and turns to Peter to say, “You know, I guess one man really can make a difference… Nuff Said.”
Other actors make cameos, but Lucy Lawless, who played Xena, in Sam Raimi’s series, appears as a punkrocker. And the guy who has his pizza webbed away by Spiderman is also the guy who cowrote evil dead 2 with Raimi.
These easter eggs are mostly more for the Raimi fans, but they are there nonetheless and amusing.
10. OVERALL THOUGHTS
At first, when I saw Spiderman 1 I was a little disappointed. I’m not sure why. I think the changes like the webshooters and green goblin’s look bothered me and I initially couldn’t overlook that. Or maybe it was the company I had. At a second watching, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. SPIDERMAN WAS REAL! Sure, I may have said a lot of negative things about Spiderman 3, but I enjoyed it more than most people. The second film for me was the best.
I wish that Raimi would have been able to redeem himself in a fourth entry, but Sony chose to reboot instead. I am eager to see The Amazing Spiderman, and post a review soon. So what are my ratings for the existing trilogy? I give Spiderman 8 points out of 10. For Spiderman 2 I’ll give it a 9 out of 10, and Spiderman 3 gets my rating of 4 out of 10. Overall, I believe Sam Raimi gave us a 7 out of 10 trilogy. It was worthy of redemption instead of reboot, but hopefully since we aren’t getting that, the new take keeps bringing in new baddies and fan pleasing things. Sorry, Tobey. No Spiderman 4 for you…