With the help of Glinda (a "good witch," played very well, as always, by Michelle Williams, Shutter Island), Oz learns to become who the residents of the land think he is: a great man, not just a good man, and certainly not the conman he was back in Kansas. Doubting that he can live up to the hope people have placed in him, Oz is told, "If you can make them believe, then you’re wizard enough."

Thing is, once the setup's in place, the story doesn’t have much more to offer. The group’s drawn-out journey to the Emerald City feels too often like it’s passing time until the final confrontation between Oz and the Wicked Witch.

Still, the movie's themes are worth pondering. Although the premise about how we achieve goodness is contrary to what the Gospel tells us about our inability to justify ourselves, the idea that we must see ourselves as we truly are before we can pursue the necessary remedy is admirable. Also, the film packages that idea in a visually splendid parcel, with moments of wonder and delight that make an impression. However, caution is in order for younger viewers, who may be frightened by some of the film’s more intense moments (a character’s transformation into the Wicked Witch, although shown in shadow, is vivid, and the witch’s minions are fearsome). Conversely, the Wizard’s transformation from selfish to selfless is positive, even if his views of "goodness within" don’t stand up to biblical scrutiny.

So Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t work as theology, but it is effective as cinema. If it doesn’t rise to the level of The Wizard of Oz, it does that classic film no shame, and it suggests that moments of movie magic can still exist in big-budget, special-effects-driven cinema. You might not be talking about Oz the Great and Powerful 70 years from now the way we still reminisce about The Wizard of Oz, but neither is the new film an experience you'll instantly forget.

CAUTIONS

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking from a flask
  • Sex/Nudity: Some kissing
  • Violence/Crime: Forest vines attack Oz and his friends; a witch hunt; voices cry out, "You’ll die!;" a woman smashes a mirror; flying baboons menace the main characters; a fireball hits Oz; a guard is struck on the head three times
  • Religion/Morals: Oscar leads a carnival show in which he claims to free a troubled woman’s spirit; a girl in a wheelchair believes in him and asks him to heal her; he looks heavenward several times and cries out—without using the name “God”—“I don’t want to die!” “I promise I can change!” and after not dying, “You won’t regret this!” and “Thank you!”; the great king of Oz has prophesied a savior of Oz; a character says a witch’s minions have been sent to kill Oz; witches are central characters, with some described as good and some as wicked; one witch says to another, “Deep down you are wicked;” lies are said to be stepping stones on the road to greatness; a character’s wickedness is said to be not her own doing, and she is offered the possibility of finding goodness within herself later; greatness is contrasted with goodness

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: March 8, 2013

CrosswalkMovies.com: Oz the Great and Powerful from crosswalkmovies on GodTube.