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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Oz the Great and Powerful

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Michelle Williams stars in a scene from the movie "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Lush visuals and sly humor boost "Oz the Great and Powerful" (Disney), director Sam Raimi's 3-D prequel to the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz."

Like its imperishable predecessor, Raimi's fantasy adventure is based on the writings of L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). This second stroll down the Yellow Brick Road, however, incorporates thematic elements that make it unsuitable for small moviegoers, who also might be frightened by some of the spooky creatures jumping out at them from the screen.

Long before Dorothy was ever heard from—so opening scenes reveal—a small-time carnival roamed the plains that featured among its attractions the magic show of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a charming rogue known to one and all by his nickname, Oz. Off stage, Oscar is gifted at weaving romantic illusions for the many ladies who take his fancy, a talent that sometimes gets him in to trouble.

In fact, it's while he's on the run from an outraged rival that he hops into a hot-air balloon and casts off, only to find his escape vehicle caught in the powerful updraft of a tornado. As Judy Garland long ago discovered, transport by twister leads to just one place: the magical land that shares Oscar's moniker.

There, Oscar discovers that both his arrival and his eventual victory over the forces of darkness gripping the realm have been prophesied. His triumph, should he attain it, will yield Oscar the throne of Oz along with the immense wealth of its treasury.

But Oscar's self-doubt poses a stumbling block on the way to his promised destiny. So too does his initial inability to determine which of his new homeland's three presiding witches—Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) or Glinda (Michelle Williams)—truly embodies goodness.

As scripted by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, "Oz" emphasizes confidence, cooperation, the marvels of science and the kind of generalized faith in happy endings that constitutes Hollywood's offense-proof substitute for religion.

Oscar is, nevertheless, shown praying to God in times of need—as, for instance, while spinning through the tornado. And his stated ambition to be a great man, rather than merely a good one—"Kansas," he says dismissively, "is full of good men"—is eventually proven to be misguided.

There's even an echo of the Bible—and of John Milton's great epic "Paradise Lost"—as one character's consumption of an apple marks her irrevocable embrace of wickedness.

Yet several plot points, including Oscar's fateful ride in the balloon aforesaid, turn on his womanizing. The specifics of his love-'em-and-leave-'em lifestyle are omitted, as are the limits to which he carries his seductions. Even so, the subject, however vaguely treated, is not one that belongs in a picture for children.

Additionally, tots might be overwhelmed by the sight of grand-scale pyrotechnics and by such sinister beasts as the winged baboons who take flight to protect the interests of dark magic.

The film contains mature references, perilous situations, a couple of mild oaths and potentially upsetting images. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II —adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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