I've got Oz on the brain these days; I just reread the first six Oz books recently, having loved them as a kid but not reread them in close to two and a half decades. They're fun! I can see why I loved them when I was eight. I can see, too, why I outgrew them; they're imaginative but slight, and many have very little plot-wise to hold them together. And many are informed by Baum's complicated relationship to the material; on the one hand, the Oz books made him rich. On the other, they clearly bored him to tears.
But! Oz! Somewhere over the rainbow! Munchkins and talking animals and Kansas, oh my! Oz is such a part of the cultural fairytale lexicon that it still feels refreshing and fun and worth dipping into, more than a century after the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and close to a century after the premiere of the classic The Wizard of Oz. I mean, hell, it's probably the preeminent American fairytale, isn't it? A restless midwest farm girl has a magical adventure; learns the value of home and family.
You can see why people just keep going back to the Oz well.
And you can see why Sam Raimi was attracted to it; he loves a layered post-modern challenge to an old storytelling trope. And, rather more crudely, I suspect Tim Burton's surprise - and unfortunate, for those of us who dislike 3D - success with Alice and Wonderland may have had something to do with getting Raimi's Oz film greenlit: cult-figure director with darkly whimsical sensibilities takes on robust fairytale; gives it a modern twist. Worked for Burton; will work for Raimi. QED.
Well, like Burton's Alice in Wonderland, it doesn’t.
I have regularly documented my feelings for Sam Raimi's directorial style, so I'm a little hesitant about this review. It's fair to argue that Raimi's films are simply not for me; that I should just accept this fact and leave well enough alone. But I can't, for a couple of reasons. To begin with, he keeps making films I want to see. More importantly, however, Raimi makes films that almost work for me. They're imaginative and ambitious and the fact that they haven't yet stuck the landing doesn't mean I don't think they someday will.
But I've tortured my metaphor long enough. To be totally clear: Oz the Great and Powerful, like every other Raimi film (I’d argue), is a mess, but it's an imaginative, sprawling, ambitious mess. And one of these days Raimi might get it right and finally make a sprawling, ambitious, imaginative success.
He’s going to work a little harder on his female characters, though.
Spoilers for the film follow.