Oz the Great and Powerful

March 11, 2013

So close.

It endeared me at the start with its steampunk aesthetic, 19th century collage-inspired opening credits and a sepia-tone carnival, with all the accompanying gadgets and costumes.  Franco is a more convincing smarmy con artist than he is a biomedical researcher.  We arrive in Oz and it’s as beautiful and wondrous as I could wish for, and chock-full of nostalgia as the whole thing is a nearly seamless prequel to the old movie. (I haven’t ever read the books, so I’m pretty much free of that baggage of expectation.)  There’s a lot to like about this.

But it dragged.  And as lovely as it is, we all left the theater feeling unsatisfied.  And it’s not just because this is a movie where these powerful women are just waiting around for a guy to come along to save them.  My thought on what was wrong with it:  I want to rewrite the entire second act, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it.  I had to think about it a minute.  But I figured it out.

You see, this isn’t just the story of how con-man Oscar became the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It’s also about the creation of the Wicked Witch of the West.  The two are parallel and connected.  But the movie completely flubs the witch’s story.  To the film, it’s not a story, it’s a McGuffin, and it shows.

**SPOILERS**

The second act begins when Oscar arrives in Oz, and ends when he decides to stay and help Glinda’s people go to battle against the evil witch sisters and reclaim the Emerald City.  As chance has it, the second act can also be measured by Theodora’s story:  the second act begins when she meets Oscar, shortly after his arrive in Oz, and ends when she, transformed into her evil green self, breaks into Glinda’s city to confront Oz and threaten everyone.  (I have to admit, I loved it when she leaped on her broom and zoomed away.)  This is beautifully structured — as I said, parallel and connected stories.  It’s great.

But what happens is the story makes us deeply sympathetic with Theodora — this completely earnest, innocent, wide-eyed (such HUGE eyes!) adorable girl.  The “country girl” from the carnival.  And in the space of a scene, with little preparation, she goes from that to completely evil.  No regret, no chance of redemption.  We get tossed a bone — “Oh, this proves you were really evil all along!  You remember your temper and that fireball, right? Haha!”  But I’m not buying it.  Because Theodora’s still being manipulated by the people around her.  She’s still naive.  Basically, she’s being punished for being naive, not for anything she’s actually done.  Which makes her ultimate fate — being murdered by a girl in a blue gingham dress in forty years — rather unsettling.  Because we haven’t actually had a good reason to stop being sympathetic toward Theodora.  The result is we all left the movie feeling uncomfortable, and vaguely thinking that the heroes are actually all jerks.

A couple of fixes:  Theodora’s transformation needed to be set up.  If she really was “evil all along deep inside,” set it up.  This only needs a couple of lines.  Oscar is flopping around in the pond, and he asks her for help getting out — and she says, “Oh, no, I can’t.  I’m scared of water.”  A tiny bit of foreshadowing that will put a little bug in your audience’s minds that something isn’t right here.  That temper her sister comments on, that gets exactly one demonstration — we need to see that when Theodora and Oscar are on the yellow brick road.  Oscar needs to be looking at her and thinking, maybe she isn’t so innocent after all.  We the audience need to look at her and think, Yeah, she’s up to something, she’s kind of dark.  And then Theodora needs to decide to be evil, instead of getting tricked into it.

And this is what happens when you treat significant secondary characters like plot devices rather than fully-realized characters.  Especially a character as well-known and iconic as the Wicked Witch of the West.  (I see a lot of people blaming Mila Kunis, suggesting she was miscast.  But I would blame the writing.)

**END SPOILERS**

And that’s how I’d fix the movie.  Kind of along those lines — see this article on Jezebel on how making an Oz movie with a male protagonist is a problematic issue from the get-go.

Now I’ve decided I really want to see Tin Man again.  I know a lot of people hate it, but I really loved its weirdness and mythology.  And Neal McDonough is pretty much my favorite actor who nobody knows about.

Also, I really want to see Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams in a Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop movie.  That would rock.

10 Responses to “Oz the Great and Powerful”

  1. Rebecca D Says:

    I totally agree! The whole “I’m turning evil becasue I got jilted” was so terribly done! I thought it was an insult to have her turn SO evil SO quickly for that reason alone. I also agree that Mila Kunis was not to blame; she could only work with the weak script she was given. Personally, I plan to stick with Gregory Maguire’s prequel Wicked!

    Thank for all your awesomeness Carrie! 🙂

  2. LupLun Says:

    For my part, I couldn’t get past the fact that Oscar was never punished for his role in Theodora’s fall, Yes, he has to grow as a person after that, but he never admits fault, and makes only a token gesture at correcting or atoning for his mistakes. And still gets the girl in the end, despite the fact that half the problems in the movie were due to him treating women like crap. Admittedly, some of this was mandated by the fim’s prequel status, but still, if we’re reinventing so much anyway…

    There’s also the rather unsettling undertone that these three women are competing, at least at first, over the only significant male in the narrative. As a friend of mine might say, “Once again the universe revolves around penis.”

    Still, it was worth it for good acting and awesome visuals. I’m curious, 2D or 3D? I saw 2D, and the entire time was noticing that it was very clearly built for 3D…

  3. Carrie V. Says:

    I saw it 2D, and was glad I did, because the 3D bits were so freaking obvious.

    I agree with all of that. And if you think about it, if this really is a prequel, it means that Oscar and Glinda have a terrible falling out at some point, and Oscar becomes such a loser that he has to trick a teenage girl into doing his dirty work for him. That’s an Oscar who never had to atone for past mistakes.

    The more I think about it, the problematic the movie becomes.

  4. Jakk Says:

    Thank you for the review, but i did skip the spoiler section(just in case i want to see the movie when it hits DVD). I pretty much figured out, before the movie ever opened, that it was going to be two origin stories, and it seems i was correct. Believe it or not, I usually base my choice on going to see a movie or wait for it to be put on DVD on reviews, and your reviews are the best. You are my main movie reviewer. (I remember passing on the Wolfman based solely on your review).

  5. The Cyberwolfe Says:

    D’oh! The wife and I went and saw this yesterday, and you’ve pegged what was bugging me about it – and I dig your suggested fixes, that would have really been all it took.

    Also went for the 2D version, cannot stand the Schtick-3D where all they do is poke stuff at the audience for 2 hours; even more so when it’s CGI stuff they poke at me while the actor tries to emote vaguely in the right direction.

  6. MarkB Says:

    Can I play devil’s advocate? I think Oscar is being used by all three women from the moment he enters Oz. Even Glinda, well aware of his failings, uses him to her own ends. Of any of the characters in the film, he is the only one who actually learns and grows from his experience.

    Of course, many of the “problems” discussed here could easily be addressed in the sequel.

    BTW, my favorite character was the China Girl. My heart just melted whenever she was on the screen.

    And the 3D Imax presentation was incredible, and helped make up for the film’s narrative shortcomings. It’s not a great movie, but I was solidly entertained.

  7. Carrie V. Says:

    He’s definitely being used by *some* of the women. But they still *need* him, and it still ignores half the story, I think.

  8. Carrie V. Says:

    Oh, and thanks for reading my reviews, I’m glad they’re useful! Mostly, I figure if I’m going to be overanalyzing everything anyway, I might as well share the fun.

  9. Tim Schmidt Says:

    I completely agree with your thoughts on Theodora. Even after she turned evil, I still felt sympathetic toward her because of the way she was used, not only by Oscar, but by her sister as well. Also, I never totally warmed up to Oscar even after he came through. Maybe because he was such a jerk in the 1st half of the movie.

    I have to disagree, at least in part, that the 3 women were all sitting around waiting to Oscar and competing for him. Theodora certainly was. She wanted a knight in shinning armor to come and make everything right again. However Evinora wasn’t waiting for anyone. She was waging a ruthless war for control of Oz. She’d already poisoned the king and had Glinda backed into a corner. When Oscar shows up and is tied to the prophesy, he becomes just another tool for her to use. Glinda was fighting a losing battle against Evinora and looking for a way to change the game. What she got was Oscar and the prophesy. She knew he wasn’t a wizard, and so didn’t fulfill the requirements, but she used him anyway because it was what she had.

    Overall, I agree it was a flawed film, though I still enjoyed it. I also agree with a previous poster that the best character in the movie was the china girl.

    Tim

    BTW: Really looking forward to “KItty Rocks the House”. It will be like having an old friend come by for a visit.

  10. RobertL Says:

    Theodora had plenty of screen time but not enough action. She spent far to much time mooning over the soggy guy she found in the pond and not enough time thinking/doing. She was supposed to be a powerful witch but she never seemed to act or think on her own.

    I think a great ending for that first flying monkey seen would be for her to strike out in panic with a fire ball to the face. That would have built her credibility as a spell slinger and shown that she was more than she appeared.


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