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Venue: Cine 4, Ster- Kinekor, Maerua Mall
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner
Players: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Rating: ***½

This Walt Disney film harks back to a more innocent world in which the battle between good and evil involves a good deal of intention but minimal violence – or malevolent consequence In this battle, good always seems preferable and, somehow, more powerful – so that the viewer is left in no doubt whatsoever that the outcome will be sanguine. The battle between good and evil is internalised in our hero, too, as Oscar Diggs (Franco) is initially portrayed as a little man with a big ego, in whom the dividing line between ethics and unscrupulousness is a fuzzy one.
When we first meet Oscar he is a spectacularly unsuccessful circus magician who is booed off the stage and eventually chased off the circus property by a man whose wife (or lover) he seems to have violated. Oscar is a charmer with a non-existent sense of honour. He hands over a cheap music box to each of his female victims with the fanciful story that it belonged to his grandmother Serena from Irkutsk in Russia. A cheap plastic ballerina pirouettes when the lid is lifted – the first indication that, in 1905, this claim is completely unfounded. Oscar is whisked away from his circus in Kansas by an air balloon that he uses as his means of escape from the large, semi-naked, bald-headed man who holds a grudge. Oscar escapes one problem to be precipitated immediately into a greater one: a tornado, which is created with wonderful special effects. Oscar spends some time in the eye of the storm and probably the only truly frightening moment in this fanciful epic is when his balloon basket is pierced by shards resembling spears – the flying debris within the tornado.
And then the magic starts. Up to this point the film has been depicted in black and white – or, more properly speaking, grey and white. The world of the circus is lacklustre, forcefully emphasising the lack of glamour in such a milieu. Once Oscar is transported to the magical fanciful world, colours flood the screen with the power of searchlights. Oscar’s balloon comes to rest, quite gently, in a pond which is surrounded by a beauty that is larger than life: huge cerise petals open with the delicacy of angel’s wings; orange trumpet-shaped flowers seem to open and chime like bells. Butterflies hover on the undergrowth with the density of a locust swarm but when they fly en masse to another shrub they take their vivid colour with them. The Disney fantasy world is both good and beautiful, harking back to the imaginative world of children at a time when there was more interest in human goodness than human weakness or vice.
Oscar, now referred to as ‘The Wizard’ meets a beautiful young princess, Theodora (Kunis), who informs him about the political situation in Oz: her father has mysteriously died and her sister, Evanora (Weisz) – a bad witch – has now hi-jacked the kingdom. A prophecy has predicted the appearance of a wizard as saviour and Oscar seems to fit the bill. Theodora may think so but the viewer enjoys the dramatic irony of foreknowledge of Oscar’s shortcomings. Yet another music box makes its appearance, together with its fanciful origins.
If we consider that acting in a children’s fantasy must prove taxing for most actors, the principals in this film do an excellent job of creating an alternative reality. Franco as The Wizard is shallow and unscrupulous initially, concerned only with self-aggrandisement. Glinda senses his weaknesses immediately summing him up as ‘weak, selfish, slightly egotistical and a fibber’. His redeeming trait is his ability to make people believe. At the point of dramatic transition, Oscar himself confesses that ‘I’m a con man; I’m just a carnival magician.’ Nevertheless, he uses his skills, the art of illusion with smoke and mirrors, to enable the powers of good to prevail – virtually without a shot fired.
The story is a prequel of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the novel by L. Franco Baum, ’The Wizard of Oz’. Set in 1905, the film depicts a period which seems uncomplicated compared to today. The film was released on 8 March this year so Windhoek audiences are privileged to be among the first to be enchanted. Children in the audience laughed rather than screamed and left the cinema enraptured rather than paralysed with fear.

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