The storyline is simple and direct and is clearly understood from the trailers. In the original The Wizard of Oz, the wizard tells Dorothy, “the wind changed and the balloon floated down into the heart of this noble city, where I was instantly acclaimed Oz, the first Wizard Deluxe. Times being what they were, I accepted the job, retaining my balloon against the advent of a quick getaway.”
It wasn't exactly like that if you accept the premise of the new film. Oz is the real name of the wizard and the name of the land as well –- there's an awkward explanation for that –- but he doesn't land in the city and the balloon was destroyed.
But this is the story of how Oz came to be in Oz and it begins with black and white cinematography as the original film did and, in the same manner, morphs into glorious (digital) color when he arrives in the magical world.
As the story opens, Oz, a sideshow trickster and womanizer, is transported to Oz in the traditional way. He and meets the three witches: Glinda, the good witch, and the two who will become the wicked witches of the East and West. He is drawn into the conflict between the three for control of the Land of Oz, meets the Munchkins and others, and emerges from the conflict, finally, as the Wizard Deluxe.
That's the story and it's not a bad one, and it's told acceptably well. But.
The character of Oz, as the writers and James Franco envision him, has none of the charm of Frank Morgan (who played Oz in the original.) He's not the likeable, genial seer who looks in a crystal ball. He's a jerk who expansively performs on-stage magic tricks and who leads the vulnerable, onstage and off, to believe he's something that he's not, resulting in pain and sadness. He's the kind of person that no one would be sorry to see swept up in a tornado. His transformation in Oz is unconvincing. No Jean Valjean is he. This is a guy who hams it up on stage, in his carnival wagon, and in the throne room of the Emerald City.
Sometimes I wondered what film I was watching. The discovery of the Land of Oz with bright flowers unfolding, yellow bells ringing, and “bluebirds on my shoulder” was all classic Disney animation and I was waiting for Uncle Remus from the banned film Song of the South to come across the field.
The Wicked Witch of the East, drawing on whatever Force exists in Oz and in a manner that would have made Emperor Palpatine proud, generates appropriately green lightning to disable her enemies. The Wicked Witch of the West, on the other hand, is obviously an early member of the X-Men who must have given lessons to Pyro on throwing fireballs.
Initially a beautiful and seductive woman, her not-so-beautiful wickedness and greenness emerges when she eats a poisoned apple. And she falls asleep until . . . oops, sorry. No sleep. That's Snow White. The apple was green and this time the witch ate it.
The Wicked Witch of the East carries a green stone, but is certainly no Elf princess. And following the dictum that "only bad witches are ugly," at the proper time, such as Dracula via a stake, a Nazi with the wrong chalice, or any of many similar transformations, she becomes appropriately aged and repulsive.
And with all this green everywhere and all the foreshadowing, the one non-green MacGuffin, as such things are called and which I was eagerly awaiting, nowhere appears.
Having said all that, there is one moment that makes the film worth seeing, the moment that I cheered and almost came out of my seat: the moment when the sideshow magician becomes the Wizard of Oz. Tolkien called such moments eucastrophe. This was a good one.
Whether any of this film relates to the other Oz books that L. Frank Baum wrote, I don't know. As it is, the film has its deficiencies, not the least of which is the acting, but there are magical moments, as one would expect in film about a wizard.