Movie review: “Oz the Great and Powerful”


Partner and I saw “Oz the Great and Powerful,” with James Franco and Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, this past weekend. We knew the reviews hadn’t been great, but we knew also that it had done terrific box office the past few weeks, and that a number of my friends had seen it.



Um. Well . . .



I am, as you’d expect, a huge Ozphile. I love the 1939 movie (what gay man doesn’t?), and “Wicked” (both book and musical), and I own all fourteen of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and I have seen “The Wiz” and a couple of the other knockoff versions. It’s a rich mythology, and lots of people have had fun playing in the wonderland that Baum created.



But this new movie is a mess, frankly. It has some great bits: the opening credits are wonderful – an animated sequence of magic tricks – and there are some beautiful scenes along the way: gorgeous super-realistic color, flowers that are gems and musical instruments. But it tries to recapture the amiable magic of the 1939 movie, and it fails. There are all kinds of winking reminiscences of the old movie: a lion, and some scarecrows, and a reference to “having no heart,” and singing/dancing Munchkins.


As in the 1939 movie, we open in Kansas, in a sepia-toned black-and-white. The Wizard (Mr. Franco) is a sideshow conjuror and a womanizer. He gets in a hot-air balloon to escape from the circus strongman, who’s just found out that his girlfriend has been seeing the Wizard on the side.



Cue the tornado!



The Land of Oz, naturally, is super-Technicolor. We meet witches, and flying monkeys, and talking birds. The movie was filmed in 2D/3D, so there are lots of soaring / flying / coasting scenes; when the Wizard first gets to Oz, he rides down a waterfall in a way that reminded me exactly of the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World. (If there’s not an “Oz” ride in Disney World within ten years – provided this movie is a hit – I’ll eat my magical hat.)



You’d think, with all that background material, that the screenwriters would have had enough to work with.



But they ended up with a thin movie full of thin characters.



You know what? Save yourself the heartache. Go to Netflix and see “Wild at Heart” instead. It’s a very sly retelling of the Oz story, and it’s much better than “Oz the Great and Powerful”:





Big theatah, small theatah


There was a nice little piece in the Times recently about a little play I’ve never heard of. It’s called “Almost, Maine”; it lived and died off-Broadway several years ago; and now it’s having a very happy afterlife in regional theater all over the world.


According to the article, it’s ideal for local groups for any number of reasons. It’s pleasant without being corny; it’s relatively easy to stage; and it can accommodate as few as four actors and as many as seventeen, depending on how many people you need to cast.



Providence is pretty rich in theater. We have a couple of really good local companies (especially Trinity and Gamm), several smaller groups, and the colleges. I saw a spectacular “Angels In America” at Trinity back in the mid-1990s. I still remember the jolt when the angel crashed through the ceiling at the end of “Millennium Approaches”; I was expecting it, my companion wasn’t; I was electrified, and he was completely paralyzed.



And that is a perfect example of something you simply cannot do, and should not even attempt to do, on a small stage.



Scale matters. Partner and I saw “Wicked” on the PPAC stage here in Providence some years ago, and it was pretty good. Then we saw it on Broadway, and Jesus Christ, it was gorgeous. In Providence, the Emerald City was a sparkly lighting effect; on Broadway, it was blinding.



So small theaters need something else. They need, in a word, to be original. I’ve seen “Comedy of Errors” done as burlesque, and “A Little Night Music” done with cardboard automobiles, and “Peer Gynt” done with rap numbers.


Long live the dinky little local theaters.



And why don’t people do “The Skin of Our Teeth” more often?







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