Friday, March 15, 2013

Cogitata Magnus et Potens

So Oz the Great and Powerful, eh? It's been getting some incredibly mixed reviews, including some that are downright loathing. One review in particular, though, had me scratching my head. (Oh, and by the way, I'll be talking spoilers, but since it's a prequel to the incredibly famous 1939 film if you have a problem get over it.)

A friend linked the review on facebook from Jezebel, an e-magazine about celebrity, sex, and fashion with a decidedly feminist slant (Ok, so really the only articles that I've seen linked to the site have been feminist and I'm judging the entire site by that). The review originally appeared here, though, so I'll source it proper. It's titled "Why 'Oz the Great and Powerful' is a Major Step Back For Witches and Women", written by Elisabeth Rappe.
Now just so we're clear, I'm a feminist. But there were a lot of things about Rappe's review that had me scratching my head.

In the very first paragraph, Rappe writes,
[The Wizard of OZ] is such a massive piece of film iconography that it has become the definitive version of this tale, and outstripped the Baum book itself. It doesn't matter that it’s a loose adaptation of Baum’s work, it is *the* adaptation, and any filmmaker itching to make a more authentic version has their hands permanently tied. The outcry – “How dare you remake The Wizard of Oz!” – would be deafening, no matter how illogical the idea  (“Hamlet” can survive a hundred versions, but not the adventures of Dorothy!).
 Hunh? Apparently it didn't stop Hollywood from making The Wiz in 1978 (with Diana Ross and Dorothy, Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, and Richard Pryor as The Wiz!). It also apparently doesn't bother the throngs who've seen Wicked (though the book was better). This may seem a tad nitpicky, but the argument that The Wizard of Oz is somehow sacred becomes the jumping off point for the rest of the review and obviously Hollywood does not view Oz (or much of anything, for that matter) as sacred.

But the real point that bugged me was how disappointed Rappe was that the hero was male. She writes, "as you go through the Oz series, one fact can't help but jump out at you: the feisty, heroic characters of Oz are all women."
It's a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" (and Hollywood is loving its prequels right now), so exactly how should the gender of the hero not be male? She's also ignoring that in Baum's stories he created ensembles of heroes, written from (usually) one girl's perspective. She's also ignoring that Hollywood decided to make a prequel about what is essentially a minor villain from the 1939 movie.

The Wizard is not a wizard at all. He's pretty much just a blustery con man. And that's before Hollywood got their hands on him. So when Hollywood decides to make a movie where this guy is the central character, how are you supposed to take the movie seriously?

The correct answer is, of course, that you can't. Which is why Sam Raimi was a perfect director for the film. I laughed (and at times outright guffawed) my way through the movie. Sorry, Rappe, but a feminist lament of this film was a waste of your time. There are a few reviews (such as this one) that say that "Oz the Great and Powerful" is essentially family-friendly, Disney version of Raimi's 1992 cult classic "Army of Darkness". The comparison is highly apt.

If your eyes can handle it, go see it in 3D. I saw it in 2D, and from the moments the credits rolled I wished I'd shelled out the extra bucks for 3D. It's a gorgeous movie that never forgets that it's based on the unmatchable 1939 masterpiece, but it also doesn't ever take itself seriously enough to try to match it. There are plenty of nods and cameos to the original, plenty of nods to the books (such as the little china girl), a few subtle twists (such as the barest hint that The Wizard was actually Dorothy's father*), and tons of laughs.

But only if you're going for laughs. The friend I saw it with hated the movie and didn't laugh once, but they also had high expectations for a movie that took itself a bit more seriously. (They also complained that Disney totally setting themselves up for a sequel, at which point I laughed and said MGM already made the sequel in 1939.)

Early on in the film, Oscar (who becomes known as the Wizard) says, "I don't want to be a good man, I want to be a great one!" And then it turns out that in the end (and Glinda says it point blank) he's not a great man, but he is a good one.
I think that idea matches the movie perfectly.

*a lot of people seem to be missing this clue, but it's there, I promise you. If anyone is curious, I'll bring it up in the comments.
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