Never believe, it’s not so… Oz the Sleezy and Problematical #reviews [spoilers]
Gather around me children as I tell you a fabulous tale. It is a tale of a man who treats women as objects, discarding each one as he finds somebody more attractive. He is a liar and a cheat, and leaves one woman emotionally scarred. Fortunately, the woman that he’s currently objectifying doesn’t mind that he’s a liar and a cheat, and together they banish the evil ex-girlfriend forever.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a film that really hates women. I’ve been mulling it over for the past hour since watching it and I have no other way to explain it. It’s a horrible, nasty film where the only redeeming feature is that, if attractive, brilliant, powerful women can fall for a narcissistic douchecanoe like the Wizard, then maybe guys who aren’t quite as horrible have a fighting chance too…
Oz the Jerk and Narcissist.
This film starts well. Oz is an illusionist, entertaining yokel towns in America’s Bible belt with levitating women. Not only does he deceive audiences, he also deceives women who fall for his ludicrous stories and advances. As in the MGM film, The Wizard of Oz, the film is in black and white and in the old 4:3 aspect ratio. Similar to the MGM film, we are given a child — in this case, a man-child — who is both flawed and unhappy about their lot in life. Where Dorothy was rebelling against the authority of her extended family, Oz is rebelling against the idea that women deserve respect and shouldn’t be treated as objects.
Oz wants to be more. Having floated a woman and having made her disappear, Oz is confronted by a disabled child in the audience who pleads with him to cure her disability. The moron yokels from this town side with the girl and Oz fears that the audience will discover that he is actually a practitioner of stage-magic and not some sort of divinity. He wants to be more than an illusionist and a trickster, but his treatment of other people suggests that he’s incapable of growing up.
What usually happens in this sort of film is that the universe conspires an intervention against the protagonist. Luke Skywalker is an adolescent sook, but the universe makes him aware of his bigger destiny. Mr Anderson is an IT-nerddrone, but the universe makes him aware that he’s actually not living in the actual universe (whoa, so deep). Peter Venkman is a pseudo-scientist sponging off a university until he comes face-to-face with the apocalypse. And Dorothy Gale is a whimsical brat from Kansas who is whisked away from home so she can learn how much her home and family mean to her.
Oz jumps into a hot air balloon in an attempt to flee from the consequences of his philandering. Alas and alack, there is a tornado and the balloon is whisked away to the Land of Oz, where everything is in vibrant colour and 16:9 aspect. It is here, thought I, that the Wizard of Oz will understand the error of his ways. Just like Dorothy Gale, he will undergo some kind of transformation and will come of age.
Freak me sideways if this film does nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite. Far from discovering that his superficiality is a character flaw (and it really, really is), James Franco’s Oz (the Wizard) discovers he might just be the scumbag, gaslighting jackhole that Oz (the Kingdom) needs.
Long ago, a Wizard-King had three extremely powerful daughters (Evanora, Theodora, and Glinda). He made a prophecy that a wizard with the same name as the kingdom would come along, vanquish evil, and then rule over a peaceful kingdom. Alas, one of his three daughters killed him and a reign of terror began. Nature itself is topsy turvy because a woman is running the place and peace will not be restored until a man resumes the throne. Such is the enlightened Kingdom of Oz.
Oz (the Wizard) of course has no real magic. He’s an illusionist and a huckster. How could he take on a powerful witch when he has no natural magical ability?
Fortunately, the film reminds us that Men are Smart and Women are Emotional Wrecks Who Need Men to Fulfill Them. Using this Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time, Oz is able to scare off the wicked witch using a cinema projector and some fireworks.
Oz the Insulting and Patronising
Oz never learns that his behaviour is unacceptable. Instead, he is praised for how he was able to defeat the Evil Woman using his Manly Intellect. He is not punished for his treatment of women. Instead, he gives Glinda (spoilers, she’s actually a good witch… or perhaps not, it depends on what you think of my analysis below) a ‘gift’ behind the ‘curtain’ at the end of the ‘film’ and she giggles coquettishly. And worst of all, Oz never has to confront the consequences of his behaviour. Instead, he banishes said consequence from the Emerald City.
When Oz first lands in Oz, he meets the adorable Theodora. She’s a powerful witch but, for some reason, she needs a man to scare off scary monsters sent by the wicked witch. Impressed by his magic tricks and declarations of affection, she falls in love with him. She tells him of her father’s prophecy and, swept up in the moment, he agrees that he will rule Oz (the Land) with her as his queen.
This alliance is not to last long. Theodora introduces Oz to her sister, Evanora. He is taken with how attractive she is and so tries his totally smooth moves on her as well. Evanora explains that, before becoming king of Oz (the Land), Oz (the Wizard) will need to kill their evil sister, Glinda. Really wanting to be king of Oz (it comes with a stipend of a room of gold), he sets off on this assassination mission.
Plot twist! Oz (the Wizard) finds Glinda to be more attractive than both Evanora and Theodora. Confused by the idea of a blond, pretty witch being evil (she even dresses in a white dress), Oz decides to accept Glinda’s assertion that Evanora is the real wicked witch.
It’s as if the Wizard’s penis is some kind of dowsing rod of truth. ’Oh, I think she’s more attractive than the others. Therefore, she must be a good witch.’
In the middle of this, Theodora doesn’t realise that Glinda is the good witch and Evanora is the wicked witch. Instead, she sees through a crystal ball Oz falling in love with Glinda. Naturally, she feels hurt and betrayed. Her tears — made of water — leave gruesome scars on her cheeks.
It’s this pain arising from being rejected by the douchecanoe Oz that makes her seek out supernatural cures for a broken heart. Through the power of a magic apple provided by Evanora, Theodora strips away her feelings of love and compassion… and also quite a lot of her clothing. Remembering the Law that Evil is Sexy, Theodora transforms into a corset-clad, cleavage revealing wicked witch of the west (green skin and all).
It’s the Oz version of the Kubler-Ross model for getting dumped. The first stage is grief. The second stage is ripping off your clothes and becoming an evil ex-girlfriend. There’s no third stage.
There’s no resolution between Oz and Theodora. Oz uses a light show and fireworks in order to scare her off, but he never has to acknowledge that he did anything wrong by her. He never has to reconcile himself with the face that the deformed shadow of the woman he once knew only exists because he was a prick.
It might seem like I’m repeating this point quite a bit. Honest to God, it’s just so bafflingly confusing that I can’t quite understand how it made it into a children’s film. I’m hoping that the right sequence of words will make it easier for me to understand how Disney managed to turn the misogyny up to eleven.
Oz the Deceptive and Tyrannical
I read far too much into things, I know, but I had absolutely no idea how to understand the political theory and jurisprudence of Oz. The Wizard-King died, and his daughter became some sort of steward of the throne, awaiting the rightful man-king to claim it.
As noted earlier, Glinda discovers that Oz is a fraud but opts not to inform the population. Instead, she aids Oz in his deception of the proletariat. Evanora and Theodora are illegitimate rulers (because they’re women), but Oz is the rightful ruler because he has the love of the people, although it’s illegitimately obtained. It’s a confusing message. At the end, a small group set up the terrifying fireworks and lights display in order to scare off anybody who might come to claim the throne for themselves (and setting up the conceit of The Wizard of Oz). How is this a system of government?
When Oz joins with Glinda, Theodora and Evanora try to assert their right to rule through fear (a wise strategic move, by the way). Although Oz and Glinda are both loved by a population which doesn’t really know them, Oz still uses fear in order to consolidate his claim to the throne. No wonder the Land of Oz is arse-about when it comes to literacy and scientific progress.
Oz the Prequel and Zeitgeist
Although there are slight differences (Glinda has been returned to the Good Witch of the South; MGM placed her in the North), this is a prequel to the film with Judy Garland. In that film, Dorothy accidentally kills the sister of the Wicked Witch of the West. Instead of apologising and recognising the grief of the surviving sister, Dorothy steals a possession of the recently deceased witch and then does a runner. Dorothy meets the Wizard of Oz who says that he won’t help her unless she kills the Wicked Witch of the West. Figuring that getting home is a higher priority than not executing people without trial, Dorothy does as requested.
Oz the Great and Powerful adds a new dimension to the MGM film: the Wizard is asking Dorothy to execute his ex. Unable to grow up and accept the consequences of his actions, the Wizard of Oz sends a young girl to do his dirty work for him.
I must admit to being a massive fan of the Wicked Witch of the West. If a tornado had struck rural Victoria, it could have been me landing in Oz, recognising the outpouring of grief from the Wicked Witch and giving her a hug. That’s all the Wicked Witch really needed: a hug. Maybe some cuddling. Swoon.
It was from this sympathy for the Wicked Witch of the West that I tried to read Wicked by Gregory Maguire.
It is freaking awful. It is unreadably bad. The musical is worse.
Both Oz the Great and Powerful and Wicked are supposed to make us understand something deeper about the world of Oz prior to the arrival of Dorothy. In Maguire’s book, the protagonist is the Wicked Witch, deconstructed to provide new meaning to the established Oz mythology. There’s an extremely complicated political situation in which Dorothy has landed, complete with some incoherent nonsense about religion and Animal rights. In Oz the Great and Powerful, the protagonist is the Wizard, with the purpose being to explain how a fraudster was able to keep three powerful witches away from the Emerald City.
Neither are great prequels. With Prometheus being a bit of a disappointment last year, and the Star Wars prequels being abomination against taste and sense, I wonder if we struggle with designing and executing prequels. What is it that makes them difficult? Is it the problem of bringing something new? Is it the need to find a way to make a prequel which makes us see the original in a new way? Is it because you know that the major characters aren’t going to die? What is it?
Oz the Cinematic and Computer Generated
My cinema-partner and I disagree strongly on this next point, but I thought the visuals were stunning and the actual cinematography was superb. The opening scenes were extremely clever, drawing heavily on the MGM film. Films are getting better at creating contrasts between light and dark. I noted in my review of The Hobbit that blues were used instead of blacks in order to present low-light sequences. The Harry Potter series, on the other hand, used blacks, making it extremely difficult to work out what was going on. Oz the Great and Powerful is vivid. Not only has it mastered the blue-equals-dark lighting, but it has tamed the brighter end of the spectrum. Water sprays are fireworks of rainbows. Landscapes are dreamlike colourscapes.
The transitions between animation and the actors are almost seamless. There are some films (such as the Matrix trilogy) where the actors suddenly turn into the video game version of themselves. Oz the Great and Powerful manages to slide around this problem by drawing attention away from the Uncanny Valley Faces. Sprites are seen from behind and beneath, and never close up.
And Oz itself is beautifully constructed. Where everything in Kansas feels like it’s two feet away from the green screen (making it feel just like the scenes in the MGM movie), Oz feels like it is without boundary. Sure, the geography was a little bit confusing at times… What, exactly, is between the Emerald City and Glinda’s house? Dark Forest or Emerald Valley? But these are minor quibbles about a film which has conquered the problem of world building.
Perhaps the only visual problem is the Wicked Witch of the West’s visage. The prosthetics make Mila Kunis look particularly strange, almost as if she’s caught the mumps.
It’s an even more exaggerated version of the MGM version:
Keeping with the theme that evil is sexy, Kunis shows significantly more cleavage than the Hamilton version. I think I saw somebody Tweet an ‘inspirational’ picture saying: ‘Dress as if you’re going to bump into your ex’. Given the weird ‘Ex-Girlfriends are Crazy Biatches’ theme of this film, the costume makes some sense, perhaps.
But it’s not in keeping with the modern concept of the Wicked Witch. Here’s some images from the recent musical:
I can’t quite work out why Oz the Great and Powerful slid us back to the monstrous hag version. Perhaps it’s because, in the musical, the Wicked Witch isn’t the protagonist’s ex-girlfriend.
Oz the Badly Scripted and Poorly Casted
But where the visuals are absolutely delicious, the script and casting is woeful.
In the Futurama episode, ‘The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings’, the Robot-Devil criticises Fry’s opera stating that characters shouldn’t just declare how they feel (it makes the Robot-Devil angry). Oz the Great and Powerful script-writers didn’t get the joke. When being thrown around in the tornado, Oz exclaims: ‘I’m not ready to die. I haven’t achieved anything with my life yet!’
At first, I wondered if the ham-fisted lines were deliberate. Perhaps they were going for some sort of style, reminiscent of the dreadful dialogue in the original novels. Instead of creating a pleasant effect (or affect, really), it just becomes irritating. You can tell that Theodora is enamoured because she says so. You can tell that Glinda is slowly coming to grow fond of the Wizard because she says so. You can tell that the creepy porcelain doll is scared because she says so. Everything must be said explicitly otherwise it doesn’t exist.
On the other hand, the casting is so dreadful that it’s hard to tell if the script was edited to meet the needs of the actors. James Franco is just flatly terrible at subtlety and Michelle Williams just looks like she’s happy to be cast in anything. In her monotonous voice, she delivers line after line expressing how she feels about things.
And while I’ve heard good things about Rachel Weiss in other films, I’m not terribly inclined to believe them. For what it’s worth, Weiss was able to convey emotions without using words. Perhaps this was supposed to be further evidence of her amazing supernatural abilities. I’m not sure.
The only person who seems capable of acting is Kunis, but she’s stuck with this cumbersome script which demands she do nothing but act like a dozy, love-struck plank of wood. It’s a powerful scene when she’s crying about being betrayed by the Wizard. But when she punches the mirror, it just reminded me that I’ve seen her in much, much better films.
Oz the Don’t Bother
The film isn’t even enjoyably bad. The gender problem at the heart of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing, and I’m not sure that it would have been an inspirational message for the dozens of children who were in the theatre. Lying and cheating is okay, so long as you dupe women into falling for you? Yet another Disney film for the ‘Miss’ pile.