Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013): A Review


The following review was delivered to me by a short man in yellow who claimed he was acting as messenger as a favor for an old ally.  He was holding a strange magical instrument and claimed that I would turn into an amphisbaena if I did not post this review.  Enjoy (or have some other emotional reaction.)


Oz the Great and Powerful (2013):  A Review
The Witch of the West

It’s nice to see writers try to keep up with the times.  The first so-called Royal Historian, L. Frank Baum, bucked the trends of his days in 1900 when he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  This “nonfiction novel” (as Truman Capote would put it) centers around Dorothy Gale, a simple country girl who finds herself in a fundamentally terrifying situation, being far from home.  Instead of being a pushover or a pansy, she pulls herself together and does what she has to do to get home, facing dangers, making friends, and helping others.  Even today, Gale’s example makes her a role model.  There are other female characters in the story, from generous ones like the Witch of the North to grateful and helpful like the Queen of the Field Mice.  Even myself, the Witch of the West, despite Baum’s attempt to rewrite history, can be seen as any good leader, trying to protect herself and her people from strange foreign invaders.  In contrast, the famous MGM movie that came out 39 years later reduces all women to a few one-dimensional types, from an idiot version of Glinda to a pointlessly evil version of myself to a Gale so pathetic that the only time she stands up for anyone is when she slaps a lion on the nose to protect her dog.  Today we’d call the movie sexist, but the earlier book is not.

Now in 2013, a lifetime after the MGM version, Disney has presented is own prequel.  I won’t get into how this version differs from the real Oz or how these events supposedly occur after Baum published his first book; that’s only so much rigamarole.  There are far more serious problems here.  The movie attempts to expand on certain characters, giving them something of a past and reasons for why they did what they did.  However, aside from being wildly untrue to life, these expansions are more than disturbing.

Let us start with the Wizard, Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, or as I like to call him, OZPINHEAD (played by James Franco).  That the man is a huckster and a fraud should be obvious, but the motion-picture-makers have added that he is highly promiscuous, trying involve himself with almost every woman he sees.  However, a man capable of maneuvering himself into seats of great power ought to have some discretion, and OZPINHEAD doesn’t have any foresight in the matter.  Is it possible that he first seduces one of the rulers of Oz, then openly courts the other?  Yes, but unlikely.  Even great rulers known for their indiscretion are usually a little more discrete with women of far less power.

The objects of his affection in Oz are three of the most formidable witches who ever lived.  Glinda (played by Michelle Williams), correctly identified as the Witch of the South, in real life has been the most duplicitous, always seeming calm and serene, but constantly keeping herself informed on everyone’s doings and working behind the scenes on long-range plans to ensure the safety of her people. In Oz, she is the last opponent anyone wants to tangle with.  However, in this movie she is much more dim, showing a naïve faith in the inner goodness of OZPINHEAD despite him being so promiscuous and clueless and a little dim himself.  None of the intelligence or planning she is known for ever appears.  In this version, she gets all her power from her magic wand, and if a woman getting all her power from a phallic symbol is not disturbingly Freudian, I do not know what is.  As the daughter of the former king, Glinda ought to be the rightful heir to the throne, but inexplicably she is not, nor does she ever seek to wrest the central power away without OZPINHEAD’s help.

In charge at the Emerald City is Evanora (played by Rachel Weisz), who is not explicitly called the Witch of the East but must be by process of elimination.  She is the only one who seems to understand what a Lothario OZPINHEAD is and acts accordingly to manipulate all involved.  She is intelligent, forceful, and shows initiative, perfect to be a leader.  Her sister is Theodora (played by Mila Kunis), who will become the Witch of the West.  Theodora starts off as a beautiful, innocent (that is, utterly stupid) young woman whose shirt always seems on the verge of falling off.  Despite being a powerful witch, she shows a lack of initiative and a weakness of will, not so much the kind of woman documented by Baum, but a clingy, helpless woman-child that seems more of a throwback to the pathetic version of Dorothy played by Judy Garland, or worse, the kind of princess “heroine” in early Disney animated features.

It is with this that we reach the crux of the problem.  Like Queen Zixi of Ix in Baum’s eponymous book, Evanora is actually ugly and disguises her appearance to look beautiful; the equivalence of beauty with goodness is a sexist cliché that trivializes a woman’s worth to a single dimension, and Disney films are rife with it.  The situation is even worse for Theodora, who becomes infatuated with OZPINHEAD at first sight and allows him to seduce her.  She mistakes their night of bliss for real love and commitment, and foolishly believes that he wants her as his queen when he takes over the rule of Oz.  The revelation (real or fake, it does not matter) of his infidelity upsets her, of course, her tears literally burning her as they run down her cheeks.  No one can blame her for being upset and angry, and this is when her true powers show.  Unlike Glinda’s phallic symbol, the powers of Theodora and Evanora come from within, and unlike Glinda’s powers for good, they are controlling and destructive.  Theodora is tricked into taking a spell which withers her heart, turning her ugly and setting her loose to wreak havoc on the world with her magic.  The situation suggests the descent of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, in which an initially good character becomes the evil Darth Vader.  However, even that involved unusual traumas, with Skywalker starting as a slave, enduring the murder of his mother, and finally trying to save his dying love.  Anyone suffering all that could go mad, and we sympathize with him despite his becoming a monster.  For Theodora, what she goes through is horrible but nowhere as bad, and while the typical woman might scratch up the seducer’s car or defame him in country-western songs, turning into an evil dictator seems a little out of proportion.  The character in the 1939 movie, played by Margaret Hamilton, at least was smart and thoughtful, but this version seems mercurial and out of control, fundamentally unstable and mentally ill.

This is not the Oz documented by Baum, where OZPINHEAD was eventually succeeded by Princess Ozma, the daughter of the former king who, after many bumpy years, finally proved her worth.  In the movie, powerful women are dangerous, and when they’re intelligent like Evanora or emotional like Theodora, everyone is at risk.  Far better is a limited woman like the dumbed-down Glinda whose only power is borrowed from a phallic symbol, and better yet is the authority of a man in charge, even a deceitful impostor like OZPINHEAD.  The special effects are fantastic, but the story is even more regressive than the 1939 movie, filled with not the innocent sexism of fools who knew no better, but a willful hostility to powerful women who would not accept their place.  The writers (Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, both men) knew full well the emotional damage that a cad can inflict upon a fool, and if OZPINHEAD really wanted to make amends, he should have presented himself in person, begging for forgiveness, the way a real man does.  Instead they let off OZPINHEAD easy, making a token offer of acceptance to Theodora if she ever changes her mind, then graciously allow him the throne and a clear conscience, a complete injustice.  More than anything, this trivializes the harm OZPINHEAD has done, shifting the blame from action to essence, ergo, women with their own power are bad.

As documented by Baum, Oz became an immortal land, and it is hard for anything there to truly die.  That is most fortunate for me, and even though I was melted once by an angry girl, that hasn’t killed my resolve.  Much as I hated the lies told about me by Gregory Maguire, they are nothing compared with the character assassination in this movie, or more properly, character rape, as bad that of some of the worst, most amateur fan fiction.  Those who have read Baum will remember that I have one eye, but it can see anywhere, and through anything, even as far as from Oz to Kansas and beyond.  I hope those motion-picture-makers will remember who is watching them, or what one intelligent, powerful woman can do.


Dan O. said...

Solid review. This could've been a lot worse as a whole but there are enough good things scattered throughout to make it a cute, entertaining night at the movies if you get the chance.

אַהֲרֹן אֵדֶלְמָן said...

I can believe it. I've heard a lot of praise for the visual effects.

Button Bright said...

Why does everyone bringing you stuff to post somehow threaten you?