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Oz the Great and Powerful 3D(2013)
A prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that tells how the Wizard arrived in Oz became the ruler.
For more about Oz the Great and Powerful 3D and the Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray release, see Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 7, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire, L. Frank Baum
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Spencer, Joey King
» See full cast & crew
Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray Review
Oz is that rare movie that's actually better in 3D...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 7, 2013
News that The Wizard of Oz would be receiving a prequel -- from Disney no less, and without carte blanche access to all the elements from the original MGM classic -- was greeted with equal parts curious excitement and curious indignation. The announcement that Oz the Great and Powerful would be directed by practical effects master Sam Raimi and might just star Hollywood's current most valuable A-lister, Robert Downey, Jr., offered Oz travelers more hope, but only for a time. Downey, Jr. soon declined the role of the titular wizard, and Johnny Depp followed suit. James Franco eventually earned leading man status, having previously worked with Raimi on the director's Spider-Man trilogy, but Franco's casting didn't inspire much confidence. The film's subsequent theatrical trailers didn't help, no thanks to a glaring CG sheen and skewed design sense many criticized for being more akin to Alice in Wonderland than The Wizard of Oz. Curiosity obviously remained high for the duration -- the prequel grossed $220 million in the U.S. and $490 million worldwide -- but audiences and critics seem to agree: for all its grand fantasy-scapes and grander ideas, Oz the Great and Powerful lacks true intelligence, heart and courage.
Kansas, 1905. Two-bit magician and womanizer Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is whisked away to a magical land that bears his stage name: Oz, home to strange creatures, deadly forests, a towering emerald city and three witches. The youngest of the witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), mistakes Oscar's tricks for genuine magic and becomes convinced he's the wizard of prophecy, destined to overthrow the mysterious and monstrous Wicked Witch, who's been terrorizing the land since the death of the King of Oz. Her older sister, royal advisor Evanora (Rachel Weisz), isn't so easily swayed by Oscar's silver tongue and sleight of hand, and sends him into the Dark Forest to track and kill the Wicked Witch before handing over the scepter and throne. Instead of a vile, wicked spellcaster, though, Oscar and his new friends -- Finley (Zach Braff), a kindly flying monkey, and China Girl (Joey King), a fragile porcelain doll -- meet Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams), a banished witch falsely accused of her father's murder. Now, with the help of the peoples of Oz, a city herald by the name of Knuck (Tony Cox) and Tin Man inventor, the Master Tinker (Bill Cobbs), Oscar races to find a way to defeat the Wicked Witch and restore order to the realm.
Somewhat ironically, poor Oscar doesn't run into nearly as many obstacles and pitfalls as poor Raimi. Producer Joe Roth is all too keen on pressing Oz the Great and Powerful into the Alice in Wonderland mold, unless I'm mistaken and Raimi is just really, really fond of Tim Burton's 2010 animated... ahem, live-action reimagining. The script, from Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, is full of imaginative puzzle pieces, prequel playfulness and semi-clever subplots, but fails to make the dialogue the least bit engaging, the denizens of Oz all that intriguing or intelligent (how dim-witted can three powerful witches be?) or the world and its magic the least bit cohesive. Then there's the over-reliance on flashbang visual effects, brimming with shiny plasticity, cartoonish CG creatures and environments, hitchy digital doubles and easy-to-spot seams that render the VFX a good ten years past their prime. Last but not least, the talented but tipsy cast, presumably at Raimi's insistence, ooze charisma and early 20th century stage theatricality; albeit to the point of being utterly uncharismatic and unconvincing, overacting and under-delivering. Franco is too thin a presence for such heavy lifting, Braff is simply miscast, Kunis is out of her depth (particularly in the third act), Williams doesn't bring much to the table, and Weisz is the only one on screen who demands any real attention. Combined with all the CG, Raimi's Oz isn't magical and wondrous, it's hollow and oddly mechanical.
And while all that may make it sound like Oz the Great and Powerful is a failure of great and powerful proportions, I actually found myself enjoying long stretches of the film. The first act is by far the most problematic, as Raimi searches for a singular tone and the cast struggle to find a foothold, and the Land of Oz is at its most disjointed. The opening black-and-white nod to The Wizard of Oz (which should be sepia-toned, *rabble rabble*) and our introduction to Oscar is even worse, with only a brief beat leaving a mark (a wheelchair-bound little girl played by King begs Diggs to heal her legs). Despite Oscar's cold open and even colder (but oh-so-colorful) arrival in Oz, the march towards the would-be wizard's confrontation with the true Wicked Witch slowly but surely gets better as it goes, culminating in a fun, surprisingly intense bit of third-act trickery bursting with, at long last, legitimate movie magic and narrative strength. It isn't hard to see what attracted Disney to the twisted mind that helmed the original Evil Dead films: Raimi's Spider-Man series, a wildly successful franchise that, failed third entry or no, made the director a promising prospect and something of a sure-thing when it came to rebooting as recognized and beloved a property as L. Frank Baum's Oz. And it's that same measured id that allows Oz the Great and Powerful to gain and ultimately maintain momentum.
More delightful is the film's 3D presentation, which actually makes for a more entertaining experience. Though built on the backs of endless 3D gimmicks, there's a delirious energy to all the carnivorous plants, dive-bombing monkeys, surging rapids, toothy river fairies, jutting emerald crystals, and billowing fireballs to thoroughly demonstrate Raimi's penchant for 3D showmanship. The camera leaps and swoops, glides and falls; the creatures of Oz charge and lunge, pounce and attack; cities and towns loom and extend into the distance, while endless fields of flowers, dark forests and sprawling mountain ranges disappear into the horizon. What Oz the Great and Powerful lacks in cohesion and inspiration, it tacks on with feverish, sometimes dizzying 3D, and it's clear that Raimi's Oz was built to take full advantage of the format, from the ground up. The added assault on the senses even distracts from some of the film's bigger problems, making its 2D counterpart feel even flatter and less whimsical. Is the 3D version of the film the wonderful wizard Disney and the filmmakers hoped it would be? Perhaps in part, but it still falls short. It may take a sequel to prove Raimi and company truly have something up their sleeves.
Note: I've given the 3D version of the film itself a higher score than the 2D version. This does not account for the technical quality of the 3D Blu-ray presentation and experience, which has been detailed and scored separately in the video section below.
Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like its separately released 2D counterpart (no catchall Combo Pack for Disney this time around), the 3D Blu-ray edition of Oz the Great and Powerful boasts a knockout 1080p video transfer, and even improves upon that with a stunning, technically proficient 3D experience. Opening on a cramped, window-boxed 1.33:1 Kansas traveling circus, the film soon expands outward to the 2.40:1 wonders of Oz, flooding the screen with rich hues, serving up lovely fleshtones and crackling with primary power. Color and contrast remain vibrant and consistent from that point forward, backed by piercing reds, dazzling yellows, lush greens, brilliant blues and beautifully deep, at-times ominous blacks. The slight, relative dimness of the 3D image and glasses actually benefit the presentation too, lending the image a more filmic appearance and masking some of the seams between CG and practical elements. Detail is impeccable throughout too. Edge definition is crisp and clean (without any significant ringing to point to), textures are both wonderfully resolved and natural, and delineation is as revealing as Raimi allows at any given moment.
The 3D, though, is where the presentation really shines. Depth and dimensionality are outstanding, allowing the Land of Oz to feel grander, more infinite and more magical. Aggressive 3D elements pop with precision and visual punch, and very little ghosting appears. (Although it's important to remember crosstalk is almost always a product of 3D displays and glasses, and rarely the result of a faulty encode.) Wide shots involving legions of flying monkeys or hundreds of Munchkins have a bit more trouble, but it isn't remotely troubling and, again, traces back to the equipment being used, not the presentation. Aliasing is also MIA, as is any other anomaly that might drag down the 3D transfer. There's a hint of minor crush and intermittent noise present in the film's darkest scenes, sure -- among them Oscar's first encounter with Glinda -- and a few flushed faces along the way, but none of it is very noticeable, much less distracting. Macroblocking, aliasing, banding and other unwelcome beasties are held at bay, and the film's CG, though rendered more problematic by such exacting clarity, is just as refined as it should be. Honestly, 3D is the way to go with this one.
Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Oz the Great and Powerful exerts tremendous power by way of an energetic and enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. However, Disney has settled on a single "Near Field" mix, optimized for smaller listening environments rather than larger home theaters; something the studio does quite often, this simply being the first time the menus have labeled a near-field mix so clearly. Fortunately, a very small number of listeners (I'd estimate less than 1%) will actually be affected, as the soundstage hasn't been narrowed in any way perceivable outside of a very large, open environment. Two 7.1 mixes would, of course, be more ideal -- one near-field, one not -- but, again, the words "near field" will raise far more questions than the track itself will cause any real pause or concern. Dialogue is crystal clear, intuitively grounded and perfectly prioritized throughout, effects are bright and involving, and dynamics are outstanding. Rear speaker activity is full of transparent awe and directional wonder, creating a bountiful, bustling soundfield as immersive as it is engaging. LFE output, meanwhile, arrives with terrific fanfare, bolstering every element that requires its support or has need of its strength. All told, the mix is more magical than the film it accompanies, and goes a long way toward making Oz a more alluring and frightening land than it might be otherwise.
Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Rather than include the film's bonus features on the 3D disc (bear in mind the 3D Blu-ray combo pack doesn't include a separate 2D Blu-ray disc), Disney has opted to make the extras available via the studio's new Digital Copy Plus accounts. More details will be available on June 11th, when the Digital Copy Plus website launches and the Oz the Great and Powerful digital content becomes accessible. In the meantime, I've provided an overview of the special features available on the 2D Blu-ray edition below, which Disney has confirmed will be available on release day -- in one form or another -- through the DCP website and/or interface.
Note: I've lowered my supplements score by a full point; a half-point for the loss of the Second Screen Experience and another half-point for the loss of choice and convenience, as on-disc supplemental content is almost always preferable to online or downloadable content.
Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Oz the Great and Powerful never ascends to the heights of The Wizard of Oz, and certainly won't ever be hailed a timeless classic. Comparisons almost seem unfair. And yet that's precisely the comparison that haunts the production. Nothing quite clicks into place -- the script, the cast, the visual effects -- and there's more Alice in Oz than anything more substantial or magical. Still, Raimi eventually finds his footing and Oz, for better or worse, hits a decent stride and finishes poised for a sequel. The 3D version is even better (so much so that I bumped its score up half a point), and honestly a bit more exciting. Disney's Blu-ray release is more consistent and satisfying than either version of the film, though, with an excellent video transfer, a terrific 3D experience, and a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. The 3D edition's extras are only available by way of Disney's new Digital Copy Plus online service, so that's a rather irritating hassle, but at least the content is still available in one way or another. All told, Oz isn't the great and powerful prequel it could be, but its Blu-ray debut and 3D AV presentation unite to become a formidable powerhouse.
Oz the Great and Powerful: Other Editions
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• Oz the Great and Powerful Blu-ray - May 1, 2013
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