Yesterday, Nick came over, and we went downtown to see “Oz, The Great and Powerful”. At the Cinerama. In 3D.

Which turned out to be pretty much the best way possible to see a movie whose virtues were almost entirely visual. The opening titles are in the form of a gorgeously-stylized little paper popup theatre kind of thing, and the movie delivers exactly what that promises – all of the performances are pretty flat, but the backgrounds are so gorgeous that I spent more than a few scenes completely ignoring the characters.

We both agreed that we probably would have enjoyed an Oz travelogue a lot more than the actual movie we saw. Which, well, this was from Disney, so I guess we shouldn’t have expected too much. Really, it felt like a mediocre TV movie… with astounding visuals.

It’s a prequel to the MGM movie. It really has nothing to do with any other history of Oz, including the actual books, beyond being based on the few bits of the Wizard’s backstory from the first book that made it into the MGM film. And it never really follows through on its ideas – there’s a moment, for instance, where it becomes very obvious that the man who will become the Wizard of Oz is being used as a pawn in the three-way game between Glinda and the future Wicked Witches of the East and West for ruling the country, but then it turns into WHITE MALE CONQUERS ALL.

It didn’t help that the motivation of both Wicked Witches was pretty much nonexistant. I mean, I wasn’t expecting the in-depth examination of what would create someone who everyone called a Wicked Witch of Macguire’s “Wicked”, but I was hoping for some motivation a little more nuanced than “AAHAHAHAHAHA I AM WICKED!!!”. There’s something about Oz being a philandering manwhore who tries to seduce every woman he meets, but I really couldn’t believe having the future Wicked Witches realize he’d been trying to get into both their panties with the same trick turn them against him so far that the more conniving one gives the naive one a magic apple that “rots her heart out and replaces it with WICKEDNESS”, after which her chin and nose get pointy and she turns green.

But. Basically I got exactly what I was expecting and didn’t feel ripped off. As a former Hardcore Oz Nerd, I had kinda thrown away any hope of it hewing to the books, and went in with zero expectations beyond (a) it sure did look pretty and (b) hey it’s directed by Sam Raimi, that could be cool. I got A, but sadly I think this movie was just suffocated under the weight of waaaayyyyy too large a budget for anyone to do the slightest thing that felt risky. It sparked some interesting conversation between Nick and I afterwards (and some amusing whispered snarking during the movie), and gave me a couple ideas for things to play with in my Oz fanfic that I’ve been fiddling with for a while.

I really can’t in good conscience recommend it. If you do see it, I think it’s pretty much imperative to see it on the biggest screen possible, and in 3D. Because the real star of the show is the backgrounds.

I really wish they’d done a travelogue instead.

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