Film Review: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.

Film Review: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Release Date: February 14th, 2013 (El Capitan Theare premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox

Walt Disney, Roth Films, Curtis-Donen Productions, 130 Minutes

Review:

Being a fan of Walt Disney in general and a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, I figured I would check this film out. I wasn’t keen on Disney’s live-action Alice In Wonderland, a few years prior, but considering that this had a pretty decent cast and a different director, I gave it a shot. Besides, Walt Disney made magic with 1985’s Return to Oz, which is still one of the best, if not the best, interpretations of Baum’s work. Also, that film still has a level of creepiness to it that makes it just as unsettling as an adult, as it was when I first saw it as a child.

As far as this film goes, I’m really on the fence. There were scenes and sequences in the movie that were incredibly well done and parts where the writing was superb. Then it would quickly go the other way and give you situations that were beyond ridiculous, even for a CGI fairytale, as well as a huge level of confusion over the characters motivations and evolution throughout the film.

Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz were pretty good in their roles. James Franco was decent but really grew into the role and took charge in the final act of the film. Zach Braff was great as Oz’s assistant in the prologue to the film and as the voice of Finley the flying monkey, a character that one could almost consider beloved had he had more screen time and had he been developed a bit more.

The biggest negative of this film was Mila Kunis. I found this surprising, as I usually like her in most things. However, her transformation to the Wicked Witch of the West was poorly done and her acting in the role went from completely uninteresting and vanilla to so over the top that she became cringe worthy every time she came on the screen.

A special shout out goes to Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox and Bruce Campbell. All three did great in their minimal roles. In Campbell’s case, it was really just a cameo.

The special effects weren’t great and the green screen work in many scenes was pretty deplorable. The evil flying monkeys looked odd and the world of Oz was too fantastical. Yes, it’s a fairytale but the world felt like a crude coloring book done by an angry three year-old who only had four crayons. It was like looking at some bad child art hanging up in a Pizza Hut.

The final battle, if you could call it that, was the highlight of the film and it really showcased the creative ability of director Sam Raimi. He and the writers found a great way to solve the problem of a mere mortal taking on two powerful wicked witches. The final act of the film was the best and it left me feeling some level of appreciation for what I spent two hours of my time watching.

All that being said, I would rather play the Temple Run game based off of this film than ever watch this movie again. In fact, that game is really what motivated me to finally watch this film a few years after its release.

Rating: 5/10