Why Is Hollywood Getting Fantasy So Wrong?
It had an ominous start – the premiere of ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ was supposed to feature a hot air balloon floating above the cinema in Leicester Square, but after the disaster in Egypt it had been cancelled at the last moment.
Pay no attention to the man behind the camera, I found myself thinking as I sat through the film. Sam Raimi was sitting in front of me s I tried not to fidget and kick his back. I remembered I had directed him when he was in his early twenties (that story’s in ‘Film Freak). Once he had been a truly innovative filmmaker – how had he ended up making such a turgid, bland Disney fantasy as this?
‘Oz’ is a prequel showing how the wizard arrived, but instead of presenting anything original it reruns the first version, but at a much slower, talkier, treaclier pace, and with a more convoluted plot. Out go the songs, the energy, the surprises, and in come three witches, one good, two bad, except for when one of the bad ones is good – you can tell the bad one because she has an English accent.
Instead of the tin man, the scarecrow and the lion we get the doll and the monkey. We also get endless reminders of how much better the original was in every way. So flying monkeys are back, only now they’re CGI, the wizard’s hall and his appearance in the smoke are present again, but now not frightening, and even the monochrome prologue appears, complete with another tornado.
We also get the fairy in a soap bubble, the Munchkins, the yellow brick road, the Emerald City, the witch on a smoking broom, the poppy field, the crystal ball, some coloured animals and every other reference you can name from the original, all set in an M&M-coloured landscape seemingly left over from Tim Burton’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Instead of memorable songs and costumes we have a score by Danny Elfman that’s only noticeable when it stops, and trashy premiere gowns for the witches. There’s confusion about who this is aimed at because James Franco plays a serial womaniser, and the pacing is too slow for fidgety little girls.
I hasten to add that this is a writer’s viewpoint, and may not be reflected by the general public. Maybe kids will adore it, if only for the poke-you-in-the-eye-with-a-stick 3D, but there’s nothing going on here for adults. Coming after the staggeringly dreadful ‘Hansel and Gretel – Witch Hunters’, and various stinkers involving Snow White and Red Riding Hood, it truly feels as if the Hollywood fantasy well has run dry. At least ‘John Carter of Mars’ had a nicely constructed plotline, even if it lacked originality.
What’s gone so wrong? Failure to follow a few simple rules. A clean, linear plot, original dialogue, some exciting action, cheery songs, a simple message. Even complex or lengthy fantasies like ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T’ and ‘The Great Race’ seem like miracles of concision by comparison. Throwing a roaring CGI baboon in your eyes to make you jump is infinitely less scaring than Dorothy stepping from the yellow brick road into the woods. And all the post-modern jokes about ‘yellow brick potholes’ won’t make up for that.