I’m pretty old, and I’ve lived in this town for a long time (almost 15 years!). I’ve seen the rise and fall of Zootz, the Keystone, the Fine Arts Cinema, and Ye Olde Pancake Shoppe. I also remember when the Nickelodeon was $1 2nd run movies. And then, $2 second run movies. And somewhere in the middle, first run movies came rolling in and prices went rolling up, but my loyalty still remained. I love my hometown movie house. I love the bad carpet and the cup holders that don’t actually fit a large soda. I love it so much that in 2005, I got married there. Obviously, if you read my dating post, you know that it didn’t work out. But, I’m just saying that my love for the Nickelodeon still reigns supreme.
In return, the Nickelodeon reciprocates my love by continuing to bring an interesting (and usually excellent) selection of movies within walking distance of my house for a mere $8 (a steal compared to the big box cinema price of $10- $15 if you want IMAX). Then, to seal the deal, there are $5 Tuesdays. Though the days of $2 movie nights are long gone, $5 for a first run movie is still a pretty sweet deal.
Or so it seems! Admittedly, any move is a gamble. Even when everyone else loves it, there is no guarantee that I will too. I’ve even walked out of a few big screen blockbusters in my day. But, the Nickelodeon generally has such good taste that I rarely find myself disappointed (or at the very least, don’t feel like I just completely wasted 2+/- hours of my life).
Enter Oz the Great and Powerful– a movie so bad that I felt genuinely that my $5 bargain ticket was no bargain. Let’s dissect:
More Oscar bait does not equal better movie. Remember Ishtar? Or what about I Heart Huckabees? Stuffing a bunch of award nominated superstars into a bad movie, doesn’t make it a good movie. In fact, it causes an even deeper level of disappointment and betrayal when the movie is still bad. I once thought that James Franco and Michelle Williams could do no wrong. They picked smart and interesting movies and acted the crap out of every single one. But something sinister happened on the way to Oz, and it resulted in some of the very worst acting that I have ever seen by otherwise excellent actors. Big, arm waving, eyelash batting TERRIBLE ACTING (especially you, Franco). Acting so bad that it made me kind of hate all of the characters, even the ones that weren’t evil. Acting so bad that Rachel Weisz should have to give her Oscar back.
I want to believe that they all had the stomach flu, or were drunk, or possessed, or forgot to take their ADD meds… Or, maybe we can blame the script or the direction, or the editing. Maybe they just wanted to make some big shiny Disney money and didn’t give a crap about their performances. Whatever the case, I want someone to blame for this atrocity, but there are just too many fingers to be pointed in too many directions. In short, I BLAME EVERYONE.
Computer graphics are not the answer. So, you’ve got a bad script and a bunch of Oscar nominees flapping around like decapitated birds. It may be tempting to slap a thick candy coating of CG on top of the whole thing and hope it draws attention away from the “problem areas.” DON’T DO IT.
Remember when there were movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal? Or, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Fantastical movies that that you felt like you could walk around in, or reach out and touch? That’s because those movies were made out of real stuff. Real stuff with weight, and texture, and life. Nowadays, it’s all pixels and green screen, and we are rapidly forgetting the value of makeup, costumes, sets, and real, physical special effects.
Don’t get me wrong, CG can be cool in the right proportions. But, it still lacks the weight of reality, and if relied upon too heavily, it pulls me out. It feels too fake, and I’m all like “These computer graphics look like shit.” When, I should be all like “How awesome would it be to be live in this magical f-ing world.” The Oz world is ugly and annoyingly fake looking and received zero buy-in from my imagination. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I’ll take painted back drops and paper mache trees over bad CG any day of the week.
To add my rapidly boiling rage/disappointment combo (and I’m not even touching the Jar Jar-esque hazards of the all-CG character), Oz had some of the most awkward interactions of humans with CG characters that I have ever seen. Nothing dashes the magic like watching an actor clearly pick up a big fakey handful of nothing, only to have some CG object unconvincingly shopped onto it in post. Also, Zach Braff makes a hideous monkey.
Sam Raimi, what gives? You used to be cool. In Army of Darkness, when Ash waved his “boomstick” over his head and said “Shop smart, shop S-Mart“- it was pure genius. Casting Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus in Spiderman 2? INSPIRED. You, Sam Raimi are funny, and innovative, and edgy, and earnest. You are good at your job. Or, at least that’s what I used to think.
I’m going to choose to believe that Disney ground down all your corners, or that you did the best you could with a terrible, terrible thing. There is only one other explanation as to why Oz could have turned into such a status quo pile of bland mush. I am afraid that you might be suffering from the dreaded TBS (no, not Turner Broadcasting System)- TIM BURTON SYNDROME.
I’m not sure how the disease is contracted exactly, but it appears to strike creative and unusual directors in the prime of their careers. The symptoms are tragic and come on quickly:
If you can’t write a love story… just throw the script in a flaming hobo trash can and back away slowly begging forgiveness for even considering making it into a movie in the first place. And, I don’t mean the make-outy hair strokey kind of love story. I mean that if you’re going to pluck a beloved literary and movie icon out of stasis for a reboot (or refresh, or remake or reanimation or whatever the hell you want to call it), make it exquisite.
For example, The Wiz is an incredible movie. Not just cast with big names for the sake of big names, cast with the right big names. Impeccable music, fantastic sets (all without even a drop of CG), and more than a few kick ass sexy disco numbers. While being faithful to its source material, it stands on its own and brings something fresh and exciting to the cannon. Oz, on the other hand (save for maybe a little bit of uninspiring back story), doesn’t add anything to the conversation. It’s just a hopelessly predictable plot paved with cliches, lousy performances, ugly costumes (What in the crunk-ass prom dress is THIS?), and rolled up in a CG crapfest that assaulted both my retinas and my dignity.
It probably seems like I’m being pretty harsh on what is essentially just a kid’s movie (and the kids in the theater seemed much less disgruntled than I was), and I totally am. But, when a director I love casts a bunch of exceptional actors in a story that has never let me down- AND I GET LET DOWN, I get grumpy. With a set up like that, I want a guarantee that I’m going to be searching for tissues in my backpack by the big spashing/crashing/touching ending. Not tapping my foot and wondering how long the bathroom line will be.
Now, I’m certainly not going to go crying to the Nickelodeon to get my $5 back (in my mind, they duped us both!). But, Sam Raimi, Disney, and your cast of CG animators and broken puppet actors… consider this my formal letter of complaint.