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Raimi’s ‘Oz’ scores with the audience, but reviews remain mixed

Oz-The-Great-and-PowerfulDespite Oz: The Great and Powerful pulling in a record breaking March box office of $80.2 million, the reviews for the prequel to the 1939 classic have been decidedly mixed. The film currently holds 60% favorability on Rotten Tomatoes (though it has an 82% audience rating), making it –perhaps- a worthy see, but that’s only 8% better than Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, which has taken in only $27 million in two-weeks of release based on a $200 million budget. While Oz cost roughly the same (though rumors suggest the film’s budget ballooned to $215 million) its reviews are bound connect with the viewing audience eventually, which should effectively drop the box-office totals next week by at least 60%. It should, though, coast for a win then, as nothing huge is scheduled to open.

The general consensus was that both James Franco and Mila Kunis were out of their depth for this type of film; both are good actors, but they’re not strong ones. And if you’re making a prequel to a 74 year-old classic, you better have a strong story (which was another complaint about the film) to match the near perfectness of The Wizard of Oz. “Oz the Great and Powerful is entirely serviceable family entertainment. Problem is, serviceable doesn’t quite cut it when you’re talking about the magical land of Oz” said Randy Myers of the San Jose Mercury News. Instead, we’re given a weak story, miscast leads and –as someone else pointed out –Zach Braff of Scrubs channeling Nathan Lane in the worst ways as the voice of Finely.

The other aspect that may have surprised viewers was the fact that the movie can only pay homage to the original film because of Warner Bros holding the rights to all the imagery in the Judy Garland version. And while Disney’s 1985 attempt –Return to Oz– tried to be faithful to the novels and not the film, it withered on the vine by critics and fans who felt it was too dark for children. Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy for viewers to sympathize with: “Dorothy’s friends are as weird as her enemies, which is faithful to the original Oz books but turns out not to be a virtue on film, where the eerie has a tendency to remain eerie no matter how often we’re told it’s not.”

“It’s bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying,” added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader added.

So what we get is a visually spectacular film, using all the wizardry created by the VFX artists who spent hundreds of hours toiling over it, but its film that stands thematically and visually apart from The Wizard of Oz. A movie empty of substance, sold to an audience who are easily distracted by colorful computer generated light. And besides, it took 74 years to do this prequel, and I don’t think anyone ever thought –or even cared- in those seven decades it was necessary to  find out how Oz ended up with their wizard.

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