Oz the Great and Powerful Review
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It’s been nearly three quarters of a century since Dorothy set off on her magical adventure in Victor Fleming’s lovable classic, The Wizard of Oz. Now the guy responsible for The Evil Dead travels back to Oz to tell the story of the wonderful wizard’s arrival in Oz the Great and Powerful.

James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs (a.k.a. Oz), a traveling circus magician and trouble-making ladies’ man whose antics land him on a hot air balloon in the middle of a tornado. When he finally touches ground, he finds that he’s not in Kansas anymore; he’s in the colorful, magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch who believes him to be the great wizard who’s destined to become the next king of Oz.

The kingdom, its riches, and its beautiful witches seem like a dream come true for Oz—until he discovers that, before he can take the throne (and the gold), he’ll have to defeat the wicked witch who’s wreaking havoc on the land and its people.

Oz the Great and Powerful is this year’s answer to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland: a flashy, family-friendly 3D fantasy that’s been carefully designed to appeal to audiences of all ages (thereby cashing in at the box office). And it definitely is a sight to behold. It’s vibrant and whimsical, with grand, magnificent sets and loads of gimmicky 3D effects that are guaranteed to thrill young viewers as they duck to avoid everything from shooting water to flying spears. Not a penny was spared in the making of this movie—and while the 3D is sometimes a bit fuzzy and disorienting, it’s also strangely mesmerizing, mixing big-budget effects with some old-fashioned touches that serve as subtle reminders of the film’s classic roots.

The story, on the other hand, is nothing new or spectacular. It pretty much goes as you’d expect (especially if you’ve seen the original a time or twelve), with Oz setting out on a journey down the famed Yellow Brick Road to battle the Wicked Witch. He makes a new friend or two along the way—and, of course, he learns some valuable lessons in the end.

Unfortunately, though, Franco’s Oz just isn’t a guy that you’ll be eager to follow into battle. A character like this one is a tough sell: a greedy, egotistical conman with an uncanny ability to get out of the stickiest of situations. It’s not easy to turn such an unpleasant character into a likable hero, and it takes just the right actor—someone like Johnny Depp, for instance, who’s an old pro at playing the lovable scamp. Franco, however, isn’t that actor. And instead of smooth and charming, he’s cheesy and overcooked—and generally irritating.

Despite its grating hero, though, Oz the Great and Powerful is still a reasonably enjoyable fantasy for the whole family. It’s far from an instant classic, but the colorful sets and over-the-top effects make this eye-popping adventure worth planning a return trip to Oz.

Blu-ray 3D Review:
For the Blu-ray 3D release of Oz the Great and Powerful, Disney is trying something a bit different. Instead of releasing a 3D combo pack—complete with Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy—the Blu-ray 3D version includes just the 3D disc and a digital copy. The film was obviously made for 3D, so it’s definitely worth picking up—but this version doesn’t include any extras. If you want extras, you’ll have to pick up the 2D Blu-ray combo pack.

Blu-ray Review:
The two-disc Blu-ray/DVD release of Oz is where you’ll find all of the special features. In addition to the Disney Second Screen feature (which is still only available for iPad), the Blu-ray disc includes a number of extras. Fans of the film can go behind the scenes with star James Franco in My Journey in Oz By James Franco. The actor interviews director Sam Raimi and his cast mates—and he even puts himself in front of the camera from time to time—to discuss the fun, the challenges, and the moviemaking process. It’s like a making-of feature with a better sense of humor.

Faithful Disney fans, meanwhile, won’t want to miss Walt Disney and the Road to Oz, a feature that takes a look at Disney’s dreams of making an Oz movie—including a failed bid for the story’s rights (which eventually led to Goldwin’s 1939 classic) and a shelved 1950s musical version.

If you want to go a little deeper into the making of this new adventure in Oz, though, you’ll have plenty of options—like China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief, which explores the work involved in making the character come to life, Mila’s Metamorphosis, which shows the actress’s two-hour transformation from starlet to wicked witch, and Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions, which follows composer Danny Elfman on his music-making journey. My personal favorite, however, is Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz, which examines Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg’s creation of the magical world of Oz. From early artwork to set tours, it shows how Stromberg and his team worked to infuse classic Disney artwork into this stunning new fantasy world.

So now the choice is yours. What’s more important to you: 3D graphics or special features? Whichever one you choose, you’re sure to be satisfied—either by the film’s eye-popping 3D or the Blu-ray’s collection of extras.

Listen to the review on Reel Discovery:

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