Monday, March 25, 2013

The Not So Wonderful Witches of Oz

If you haven't seen Oz The Great and Powerful and don't want to know what happens, then I suggest skipping this post. Have a read of some Sweet Valley High recaps instead. Be grand.

I went to see Oz The Great and Powerful last week. I had heard good things about it, but the Bear had heard the opposite, so we decided to go and make our own minds up. Going into it I thought: "This has LOADS of female characters! Hooray!" However, coming out of the cinema that thought had changed to: "Well that had loads of female characters. And they all sucked."

I love witches and things about witches. When I was finishing my graphic design degree in college, I somehow managed to get away with writing a thesis about the portrayal of witches in art and pop culture and how the image of the witch has evolved over time. It was LOADS of fun to write, and despite my design lecturers looking confused as to what the hell I was up to when they asked what my topic was, my History of Art lecturer loved it. Witches are endlessly brilliant and interesting characters to write about.

So I had been really looking forward to seeing how the three witches in Oz would turn out, as SURELY they'd be powerful, independent and wickedly fun to watch, yes? SURELY they won't spend the entire film telling James Franco's con-man wizard Oscar how fucking brilliant he is, be riddled with daddy issues or appear to be utterly useless until a non-magical dude comes along to chance his arm at fixing everything, YES? Oh. Apparently not.

I liked James Franco in it, I know his character is meant to be a cad, a rogue, a bounder and whatnot and I'm entertained by the fact that every time he smiled in this film he looked like he was high as fuck.

Did someone say nachos?
But he was pretty much ALL the female characters talked about for the entire thing and the few times they weren't talking about him, the conversation was all about the previous wizard, i.e. Glinda's father. This film has THREE important and potentially awesome women in it, two of which are sisters and it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test, a result which is quite frankly pathetic.

So what's the deal with these witches? Well, firstly there's Theodora, played by lovely Mila Kunis, who wears sexy leather pants and immediately falls for Oscar and his rapscallion charm when he initially bumbles his way into the land of Oz. Fair enough, he's got a routine for the pretty ladies, which involves a seemingly infinite supply of cheap music boxes, and it works. But he quickly ditches her and this alone is apparently enough reason for her to abandon all hope and become the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West. Over a dude she literally JUST MET.

You used to be cool, man.
The film essentially boiled down the backstory of one of the most iconic villains of all time to a bitter, shrieking ex-girlfriend, which just seems incredibly insulting. The whole thing just reeked of "bitches be trippin', AMIRITE?" Fuck that noise.

The second witch in question, Evanora (Theodora's sister) has deceitfully taken over the throne of the Emerald City by killing Glinda's father and convincing the people of Oz that Glinda was responsible, resulting in her being banished and therefore out of Evanora's way. On paper she sounds like an excellent villain, but in reality, Evanora just wasn't that interesting. (Although to be fair, she's probably the least objectionable of the three witches in the film.) She wasn't as wicked as her sister turned out to be, but was sort of bad, without being complex or gripping or anything, probably not helped by the fact that she was so busy banging on about the wizard all the fucking time. To paraphrase Dr. Evil, she's the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough.

There was also the fact that it was revealed that she was using a magic necklace to disguise her true appearance, which was that of a hideous old crone, just in case we haven't been beaten over the head with the ugly = bad trope enough in the last while. Her dress was deadly though.

Finally, there was Glinda. Glinda the simpering good witch, who appears to have been instructed by her father's prophecy to wait for a man to come along and claim the throne that should actually be hers by rights. So she does fuck all except hang around spooky graveyards in a dark cloak for reasons that are never actually explained and not bother clearing her name or organising a resistance on her own (which she would be more than capable of, seeing as SHE'S MAGIC and knows the people and terrain, but whatever) until some idiot crashes his hot air balloon into a tornado. Sound.

As my friend Billy pointed out, when she brings Oscar to her fancy castle in order to begin coordinating the rebellion, it looks like she might boot camp his ass into a fighting wizard commander, but instead we get an insipid "oh look, she's falling for him" scene. She knows that Oscar doesn't have any powers like he pretends to and that he lies and tricks his way through life, but hey, it's ok, he should be in charge now because he's sort of good and WE MUST BLINDLY ABIDE BY THE PROPHECY.

Be a good girl and look after the kids instead. Bake a few cakes while you're at it, sure power and agency is for the menfolk, after all.
At this point she's also become a mammy of sorts to the porcelain girl that's been accompanying Oscar on his travels around Oz, offering to tuck her into bed and what have you because maternal women are automatically the good ones and women with no maternal inclinations whatsoever (Evanora, Theodora, me) are villains, obviously.

To me, Glinda just seemed like a fucking sap and ends up little more than a shimmery trophy wife for Oscar at the end, even though she proves herself to be more than a match for Evanora's magic. Boo and indeed hiss.

The producer of the film has been quoted in The Huffington Post saying QUITE SERIOUSLY that:

"...a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing."

Because that's exactly what the movie industry is lacking in! STORIES ABOUT MEN! My GOD, when will all those lady bitches in charge of Hollywood WISE UP and realise that dudes are TOTALLY BEING MARGINALISED. I'M SUPER SERIAL YOU GUYS.

Get. To. Fuck.

The thing is, there were plenty of bits that I did like in the film, there were loads of fun little references to the 1939 film, some really well done CGI and the little porcelain girl was actually quite cool for the most part, but all of the above points just bothered me so much that by the time the film was over, the whole thing was decidedly meh.

It mostly just made me wish that they'd make a film version of Wicked, where the witches are actually layered, complex, interesting, funny, smart characters. Someone make that film already, goddammit.


  1. Brilliant. This is EXACTLY how I felt after it. Which is disappointing because it was visually stunning and Mila Kunis is cool. But I felt like in this she was the absolute definition of why female characters in Hollywood are (more often than not) terrible.

  2. Oh seriously, three women vying for the crown and they can't talk to each other about anything other than a man for a minute? Damn. Thanks for spending your money so I didn't have to.

  3. Lola - Yep, super disappointing. The whole Theodora thing was a huge slap in the face to the character and to women. Boo.

    Jennifer - It was very frustrating. There was maybe one single line in the whole thing said by Evanora that wasn't directly about the wizard. Load of balls.

  4. Ha, this is what I suspected all along. You can tell from the fecking poster. Yuck.

  5. I completely agree - my fiance was making fun of me for "taking it too seriously" so I'm glad someone agrees. I also disliked the fact that the movie went the old "blond = good, pure, nice / brunette = evil" route, and the fact that eventhough the wizard totally screwed over Theodora, he did nothing to try and fix his mess... "oh, you're welcome to come back when you're done PMSing" was all she got. Really?

    1. Yes, exactly! "Come back when you've stopped being an unreasonable bitch!" Fuck you, wizard.

  6. Having read and loved the Oz books, all of which are filled with powerful female characters, it is seriously offensive that this is all Hollywood can come up with.

  7. THANK YOU. I saw the trailer for this a couple of months ago and I started giving out loudly in the cinema about how it basically just looks like 2 hours of 3 beautiful women telling James Franco how amazing he is. Fuck that shit.

  8. Haven't seen it but was reading a bit about it. Agree that anything I have seen visually looks fab but I didn't like the general gist I got from it & now this. Think I'll save my money.
    Would LOVE a film version of Wicked as I think that shows fabulously complex characters at their best which is what the witches etc are. Although knowing Hollywood they'd get the casting wrong. Sigh.

  9. haven't seen it yet, I wanna see warm bodies first!


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