Yesterday I took the family out to see the new Wizard of Oz movie. I had very low expectations - and I was not disappointed. I suspected the film would be mediocre, but I heard the MSU Drum Line provided extras and thought it would be fun to catch the early show - since we haven't gone on a family movie outing in many months.
Rather than address the film's specific flaws, I will hold it up as an example of what's wrong with Hollywood today.
It all come down to the concept of the Reluctant Hero. This is an old concept, used with great effect in many excellent stories. The premise is simple - you take a person who for whatever reason would prefer to avoid the adventure and make them the centerpiece of the tale.
There are many reasons the hero might be reluctant - he might think himself unworthy, or perhaps fear danger. As I said, it is a broad and time-tested convention, used in everything from Kidnapped to the The Hobbit. A variation has an everyman put into an extraordinary circumstance, where he rises to the occasion (like Die Hard).
The problem with this concept is that Hollywood has killed it. They've beaten it to death. In their zeal to show the reluctance, the studios are leaving out the actual hero part. Oz represents perhaps the apogee of this: We get to spend 90 minutes watching the hero try to get out of the story by every means within his (limited) grasp.
It's tedious. It's boring. It does not add depth to the character, it makes him annoying to watch. A good film might spend a scene (five, ten minutes, tops) showing this reluctance, but increasingly the entire focus of the movie is Hamlet walking on the battlements wondering how he can get out of actually being in the play.
This is why I believe villains are increasingly popular - not just with the audience but with the actors. The villians know exactly what they want. They have conviction - they're totally into what they are doing.
While Bruce Wayne is debating on whether or not he's going to don the suit, the Joker is killing with angst-free abandon.
Memo to script-writers and novelists everywhere: Indecision does not add character depth. It makes the character look weak.
As to Oz in specific, it's a very pretty, very boring movie. I honestly expected better from Sam Raimi, who actually tackled the problem of a reluctant hero brilliantly in the low-budget cult-classic Army of Darkness. Bruce Campbell's captures pefectly a guy who doesn't want to be where he is, but, after realizing the alternatives, does the best he can to get out.
Speaking of Campbell, he would have been a much better wizard. He has a cameo and I spent much of the movie imagining him as the lead actor, blustering his way forward. That's who the Wizard of Oz really is - a blustering carnival huckster, quick-thinking but ultimately good-hearted. Again, just like the Promised One in Army of Darkness.
Thus we know Raimi knows how to make a movie like this - he understands the Reluctant Hero. He's used it well. So why does he drag out the process for more than an hour? It makes no sense.
If you must see Oz the Great and Powerful, do so on an airplane trip or netflicks. Bring something else to do.