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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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there.

 
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