With Hollywood remaining rigidly apathetic towards the prospect of doing anything new or daring, it is the turn of The Wizard Of Oz to get its world reimagined for the 21st Century, with prequel Oz: The Great And Powerful being the result.
Starting off in plain old monochrome (like the original), Oz sees struggling circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) high-tail it away from the fairground in a hot air balloon after his trail of sleaze finally catches away from him – only to head straight into a twister.
Waking up in a land suffused with colour, one by one he meets three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), all with different plans for him and something to say. But which are telling the truth?
Oz: The Great And Powerful is undeniably pretty, but that isn’t enough to disguise the meandering plot and predict-them-as-they-happen plot twists, with the story quickly being swamped by the prequel malaise of treading water in lieu of being able to do anything with the characters thanks to the limitations imposed by its forebear.
The cast are game – especially Franco – but that isn’t enough to disguise the fact that Oscar is, frankly, a bit of a dick. He spends the first half of the film lying, cheating and swindling his way through every situation he encounters, and is the sole architect of all his own problems. His all-round unlikeability contributes to the fact that it is hard to get on board with a film whose underlying theme appears to be that cheats and liars always prosper as long as they cheat and lie longer and louder.
Conversely, Kunis’ Theodora turns out to be the real victim, thanks in no small part to her hugely emotive performance, although by contrast Weisz’ character is so ineffectual that she’s barely worth a mention.
In the end, Oz just about gets by virtue of numerous heartstring-pulling nostalgia points, some screen-saving performances and the at times wonderful visuals, but it doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the potential offered by L Frank Baum’s imagination.