Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThere’s a moment about twenty minutes into Oz The Great and Powerful when Mila Kunis asks James Franco if he’s afraid. And I was glad she did because with James Franco, it’s never that easy to guess how he’s feeling. At the point of asking, I wasn’t sure if he was thoughtful, constipated or just wondering if he’d locked his car when he turned up on set that day. Turns out he was afraid after all.

For the remainder of the movie, unfortunately, no one thinks to question James Franco to discover which emotion he’s currently experiencing, so for the large part we have to rely on guesswork. I was able to deduce that based on the information at hand he was displaying all the traits of a man not knowing how to react to a green screen.

It’ll be news to no one to learn that Oz is the spiritual prequel to 1939’s Wizard of Oz which serves to answer the questions that’ve been brimming on everyone’s lips for the last 74 years … just who was the Wizard of Oz, how did he get there, and does he really have to be played by James Franco?

In a nod to its predecessor, we start in 4:3 black & white and are introduced to Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco), a womanising carnival magician / con-man. Discovered by a jealous husband, Oz makes his escape via hot air balloon, as one does, and flies straight into the heart of a Kansas tornado. This, as you’ll have figured out by now, transports him to his namesake land and delivers us into 2.35:1 colour, where he is mistaken for the Wizard prophesied to rid the kingdom of one Miss Wicked Witch of the West. After that, it’s all very much like a remake of The Three Amigos.

In the hands of director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) it actually isn’t that bad. Visually, all the green screen stuff that confused James Franco so much is put to glorious effect. Yellows have seldom looked as yellow. CGI characters have hardly ever looked as convincing. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams put in decent turns and there’s even a small cameo from Bruce Campbell to keep Raimi fans happy. And in the 2D version, the visuals are so impressive that I almost thought it was 3D.

Outacted by Mila Kunis, a monkey in a bellhop’s outfit, and a piece of imaginary china, it’s really James Franco who lets down proceedings. He lacks sufficient warmth and believable charm to be convincing as a conman and without the acting talents of, say, a common or garden vole, he’s left to ham it up to the extent that you can practically see the apple in his mouth and you’re left with an odd hankering for a bacon sandwich.

At 130 minutes, it’s a full half-hour longer than Wizard and towards the end there is a strong temptation towards watch-checking, but it’s actually not a bad film. It’s obviously a million miles away from being good enough to shoe the feet of The Wizard of Oz and I’m not entirely sure why it exists, but Franco notwithstanding there’s just about enough of interest and a couple of decent laughs to be found somewhere in the vicinity of a certain yellow brick road.

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