Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Anna Karenina vs. Oz: The Great and Powerful, two literary adaptions that seek to explain the distinctly human urge to escape.
PremiseOz: The Great and Powerful takes viewers a step back in the childhood tale of the famous Wizard, explaining how the merely mortal Kansas man, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) arrives in the land of Oz and is soon drawn into its inhabitants’ problems by three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Anna Karenina brings to decadent life the illustrious affair of Countess Anna (Keira Knightley) and Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson), and the damages that reverberate through the lives of the many people in 19th-century Russian aristocracy who are affected by their affair.Advantage: Anna Karenina
AdaptabilityOne of the most beloved stories of children’s fiction, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, serves as the basis for Great and Powerful, minus some of the major pop-culture characters associated with the story. The story of young Oz predates Dorothy and her motley crew of travel companions, but includes the younger version of the witches of Oz. Although The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has become a staple of popular culture, Anna Karenina is said to be the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy’s masterpiece is a complex portrayal or Russian high society that gives considerable coverage to another couple – Kitty and Levin – often overlooked in past films. And the trailer doesn’t do much to suggest this film will be any different. Anna Karenina is clearly the superior pick in literary greatness, but when it comes to adapting characters and setting to film, Oz masters the illusion.Advantage: Oz: The Great and Powerful
SettingThanks to some technological advances since the 1939 Oz film, Great and Powerful presents audiences with an upgraded Oz that seems more like a foreign tropical paradise à la Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (the movies share a producer). Complete with pop-eyed winged creatures, talking dolls, and wicked witches, Oz has clearly become an imaginative celebration of the senses. As Oz teems with life and possibility, the 19th-century Russia of Anna Karenina is a place that hinges on structure and constriction. And the country’s cold, dark desolation doesn’t subside when the aristocrats step indoors and find themselves in the decadent cage of high society. Although Anna’s palpable desperation in the trailer leaves much to intrigue, we’re going to have to follow the yellow brick road on this one.Advantage: Oz: The Great and Powerful
CostumesAnother obvious marker of good production value is authentic, well-crafted costumes. Great and Powerful spurs a sartorial yawn, especially compared to the gorgeous clothing on view in Anna. James Franco’s Wizard is dressed appropriately enough, in the turn-of-the-century jacket-trouser combination that betrays his Midwestern roots, and given the surreality of Oz, the witches’ garish dresses provide a stark contrast that is equally appropriate. But we don’t exactly envy dusty top hats and feathered collars. Anna Karenina’s wardrobe provides more than enough eye candy for the style-minded movie-goer. Knightley is no stranger to a corset, and her role as Anna is heavy on the waist-cinching ballgowns. Ground-grazing coats, strands of pearls, and yards of lace abound. The men of the film also have a chance to show off, in decorated uniforms and straitlaced suits. Chiffon and beading and fur, oh my.Advantage: Anna Karenina
VillainsAlthough it is unclear from the Great and Powerful trailer just how wicked any of these witches start out, the army of flying monkeys and Rachel Weisz’s cool smirk make it pretty clear that over the course of the movie, the witches earn their titles. It’s difficult to picture our sweet-faced cover girl Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West or Rachel Weisz as her eastern counterpart, but we have a sneaky suspicion that given the creepy green hand at the end of trailer, these ladies embrace their dark side. Anna Karenina‘s moral compass is a little harder to find. The trailer (like the novel) is a stew of emotional carnage, leaving audiences wondering whom the real antagonist is: Anna’s detached husband that others dub a saint? The unsympathetic high society that eventually shuns her? Or Anna herself, who risks the happiness of others for the sake of an affair? There aren’t many easy answers in a story like Anna, and all we want is a good, old-fashioned, clear-cut manifestation of evil. Let’s hope that creepy green hand doesn’t disappoint.Advantage: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Cast and DirectorAnna Karenina boasts the queen of feminist period-film leads, Keira Knightley, who is accompanied by Jude Law as Count Karenin and Aaron Johnson as Count Vronsky. Knightley previously worked with director Joe Wright on Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, both literary-based films that were met with critical acclaim, a trend the two undoubtedly hope to maintain with Anna. Oz similarly continues an actor-director relationship, this time between Sam Raimi and James Franco, who worked together on all three of his Spider-Man movies. Oscar winners Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis are all notable for their supporting parts. We love pretty much everyone in both of these films, but for our money, Anna‘s packing slightly more awards-season heat.Advantage: Anna Karenina
VerdictGreat and Powerful offers us a surreal fantasyland, complete with characters and a setting that wax nostalgic on the popular American psyche, but that doesn’t exactly work in its favor. There are expectations to live up to, and it’s nearly impossible to create the magic of such a popular classic. Anna Karenina, in all its literary greatness, has a gaping void of respectable adaptions, leaving us to hope that this version finally does the famous tale justice.Winner: Anna Karenina
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