Following the phenomenal success of Alice in Wonderland Disney were keen to release a similar tent pole film, and in 3D as well, and Oz: The Great and Powerful was that film. With a very similar, bold, colourful visual style there were high hopes that this film could repeat Alice's $US1 billion box office, but while it ultimately only grossed around half that money, Oz: The Great and Powerful remains a great family film.
Set 20 years before the events of The Wizard of Oz this film follows the adventures of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks hes hit the jackpot, fame and fortune are his for the taking that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity and even a bit of wizardry Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.
While James Franco remains a little disappointing to me, the three lead actresses offer no such disappointment. Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachael Weisz are superb as Theodora, Evanora and Glinda - each of whom shines when on the screen - director Sam Raimi really couldn't have asked for more from any of those actresses. Still, they weren't my favourite characters in the film - that goes to the talking monkey Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) and the China Doll (voiced by Joey King). Each of those CG characters are filled with personality, charm and bring much of the charm and comedic element to the film.
Perhaps it's a case of the 3D conversion, perhaps the filming techniques, or perhaps just poor bluescreen work, but some scenes just appear to be fake. A perfect example of this is 32:51-33:21 when the Wizard and Theodora are walking through the sunflower fields - it looks like they are cardboard cutouts in the scene, but this happens quite frequently in various scenes to varying degrees throughout the film.
Oz: The Great and Powerful isn't a patch on The Wizard of Oz, but then again what film is. There's certainly enough here to keep families more then happy and it comes recommended.
First things first, don't adjust your TV sets when this film starts, it intentionally framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but on a HDTV will show as a small window in the middle of the screen and is also in black and white. This is a homage to the original film where the opening scenes in Kansas appear in sepia tone. When we get to the land of Oz though the film opens up to a gloriously colourful 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the AVC MPEG-4 transfer shines with bright, bold colours and a vibrancy we've rarely seen in a feature film. It's simply gorgeous but fortunately even the darker scenes sees the level of fine detail retained before hitting deep blacks. There's certainly no complaint about the visual quality of this Blu-Ray.
We should also point out that Oz: The Great and Powerful is also available on 3D Blu-Ray and while we haven't got that version to review, the 3D in the theatre was quite entertaining (no moreso then when the hot air balloon is going through the cyclone), so if you have a large 3DTV that may be worth considering.
Disney have provided the Oz Blu-Ray with an absolutely cracking lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (24 -bit/48Khz) track which is defined as a "Near Field Audio Mix" - essentially it has been adjusted to suit the smaller lounge room rather than large theatre audio setups. It's an absolutely cracker mix with great audio priortization, and aggressive use of surround sound channels. Danny Elfman's score is superb, in particular the Waltz for the music box which is just magical.
If we have to pick up one complaint it's that the bass levels are, very occasionally, perhaps a little too aggressive and loud, but we're not sure if that's from the original audio mix from theatres, or the Blu- Ray mix. In any case it's a very minor quibble in an otherwise astounding audio experience.
Moving on to other audio tracks and this Blu-Ray includes an English Audio Descriptive 2.0 at 320kbps, Italian DTS 5.1 at 1.5Mbps, Russian and Ukrainian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks each encoded at 640kbps. We sampled each and don't believe there will be any major issues. Subtitles are provided in English (and we sampled this track which was accurate to the films dialogue), English for the Hearing Impaired, Italian, Russian. Ukrainian, Greek, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian.
This Blu-Ray isn't loaded with extras, but what is included is worth checking out for some background to the creation of this film. It's also important to note that the DVD release only includes the bloopers and Walt Disney featurette so the Blu-Ray has some extra materials.
Walt Disney and the Road To Oz (10:13/HD): This is a rather impressive look at how Walt Disney managed to get the rights to the L. Frank Baum's Oz literature to turn into feature films. Walt Disney's fascination with the subject matter is clear and this gives a great insight into the property, and how Walt's work on early Oz projects led to success with other films. Interesting.
My Journey in Oz by James Franco (21:43/HD): This documentary was put together by James Franco and gives a fantastic insight into the creation of the film with some very open and candid interviews with the cast and crew. It's quite a good insight into the creation of the film.
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz (11:02/HD): This featurette focuses on the visuals throughout the film and includes some of the gorgeous artwork, to creation the sets of which there are a lot more then one would expect from such a CG heavy film, and the overall visual styles.
Mila's Metamorphosis (7:43/HD): Mila Kunis' character undergoes a massive transformation during the film, and this featurette looks at the practical makeup and prosthetics process which she had to go through for the transformations. It's impressive how much work goes into the transformation but also looks at some abandoned early designs.
Bloopers (5:06/HD): This is your typical blooper reel with some rather amusing moments but nothing that hasn't been in every blooper reel before.
Review By: Dave Warner