Can ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ work magic at Oscars?

Oz: The Great and Powerful” opened Friday to mostly mediorcre notices. Indeed, it only merits a score of 44 at MetaCritic. However, while critics found fault with the plot and performances, they were enthusiastic about the look and sound of the film.

That makes this $200 million plus epic from Disney a strong contender at the Oscars in a slew of below-the-line categories: Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

Three years ago this weekend, Disney debuted Tim Burton‘s take on “Alice in Wonderland.” That 3-D extravaganze only earned a score of 53 at Metacritic but went on to win two of its three Oscar bids: Art Direction (as Production Design was then called) and Costumes. It lost Visual Effects to “Inception.” 

Robert Stromberg, who shared that Art Direction Oscar with Karen O’Hara, handles these same duties solo on “Oz.” And Oscar nominee Gary Jones (“The Talent Mr. Ripley”) crafted the costumes for the picture. 

“Oz” star James Franco first worked with helmer Sam Raimi on the “Spider-Man” trilogy. The second film in that franchise won Best Visual Effects in 2004 (The first had contended in 2002, losing to “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”) 

Two of the men who shared in that Oscar win — John Frazier and Scott Stokdyk — are the visual wizards of “Oz.” 

As Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) notes, “What ‘Oz’ does do well, and this has proved to be no easy task, is effectively use its 3-D format. With Robert Stromberg as production designer and Peter Deming as cinematographer, this film succeeds in making the Land of Oz look completely magical and strange.

For Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times), “Raimi and his army of special-effects wizards have created a visually stunning film that makes good use of 3-D, at least in the first hour or so.”

Agrees Ty Burr (Boston Globe): “The new film comes at us with all the 21st-century bells and whistles — computer-generated effects, 3-D visuals — and the absurdly talented Sam Raimi behind the camera.” 

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