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Rob Edelman: The Not-So-Wonderful Oz

Why does Hollywood remake or rework classic movies? Why would moviemakers want to improve on what is universally acknowledged as perfection, or at least near-perfection?

Well of course, the answer is to make money. Because the new film is thematically connected to the classic, it may be pre-sold to the public prior to its release, just as the screen versions of best-selling novels or vintage television shows. There is a name-recognition here, and this recognition will allow the Hollywood power elite to add box office bucks to their bank accounts before anyone realizes that the remake or reworking is not so hot.

Such is the case with OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, a prequel to the 1939 classic, THE WIZARD OF OZ. This new film spotlights the plight of the young wizard, played here by James Franco.

When it comes to films like OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, potential audience members do not have to depend only upon Hollywood hype as they decide if they want to shell out their hard-earned bucks. They can read reviews. However, in the case of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, the reviews have been less than kind. For example, one critic, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, noted: “A miscast James Franco and a lack of charm and humor doom (director) Sam Raimi’s prequel to the 1939 Hollywood classic. OZ THE WIMPY AND WEAK would be more like it.”

The Entertainment Weekly critic observed: “The film is stuffed with three endings too many. You can’t blame Raimi for wanting to give us our money’s worth. But after a while, you just want him to get to the Happily Ever After already.” Added the New York Daily News writer: “Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors. There is nothing here that is great, or powerful. Worst of all, there’s nothing here that even feels like Oz.” Noted the Wall Street Journal reviewer: “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, like so many products of movie studios that have lost their way, is a Tin Man of epic proportions-- bright and shiny, with no heart.” Observed the Rolling Stone critic, “There’s no Judy Garland songs, no Scarecrow, no Tin Man, no Cowardly Lion. There’s also no simplicity, no magic, no truth.”

Even the more positive reviews were tempered. Roger Ebert noted: “Some of the surprises in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL... are delightful. Others, however, sink the movie just below the point of recommendation...”

Apparently-- and I might add, not surprisingly-- none of these reviews impacted in any way on ticket sales. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL earned a whopping $80.3-million during its first weekend in release in North America. It took in an additional $69.9-million in foreign markets, for a total opening weekend box office of $150-million.

What does this tell us? Well, there may be no way of telling how many of those who bought tickets to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL truly enjoyed the film and how many felt fleeced. But one thing is certain: We all can watch for the OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL sequel.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.

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