Sam Raimi’s Distinct Visual Style

• March 8, 2013 10:46 am


I don't usually attack another critic's review because, yeah, well that's just like, their opinion, man. But I have to strenuously object to what I think is a basic, factual error in Manohla Dargis' review of Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful. Writes Dargis:

Mr. Raimi isn’t a memorable visual stylist, but he’s usually better with actors than he is here.

Emphasis mine, because, for the life of me, I don't know what she's on about. (Although I think she's right that the performances are uncharacteristically off in this film.) Raimi is one of the more distinct visual stylists working today and, as I note in my review, he's managed to bring that sensibility to the mainstream, big budget pictures he has directed for the last decade.

Consider this sequence from Spider-Man 2:

This is pretty classic Raimi and, frankly, as stylized as almost any scene from the recent glut of comic book movies. Quick cuts, POV shots, weird angles, huge shadows. I remember seeing that in the theater and thinking "Wow, Raimi got nine figures from a studio to make an Evil Dead movie."

Then there's this sequence (skip ahead to about 1:20) in Drag Me to Hell, which is ripped directly from the Evil Dead films and echoes of which we see in the fight scene that closes the new Oz picture. The camera's jaunty angles and quick cuts mirror the skewed limbs and awkward, vicious movements of the monstrous possessed. 

There's also a montage sequence in Oz the Great and Powerful that made me sit up and think "classic Raimi." It is strikingly reminiscent of a sequence from Quick and the Dead, Raimi's underrated western, during which we see the gunfighters prepare for battle. One side of the screen is dominated by a face in close up; the rest shows a different fighter getting ready for gunplay. (I really wish I could find this sequence on YouTube, as it's been a while since I've seen it and my descriptive powers are failing me. Point is: It's distinct, and it's distinctly Raimi.)

Of course, the Dutch-angled zoom is Raimi's go-to move, and it features prominently in Oz the Great and Powerful, showing up early and often. It is used to heighten tension and dread to perfect effect—as when James Franco and Mila Kunis cower under a waterfall as a flying baboon stalks them, unseen, overhead. The winged monster howls and the camera tilts and zooms in on our stricken heroes, their terrified visages dominating the screen. Again, this is standard Raimi, the sort of visual stamp you see all over his work.

I can understand why someone might be annoyed by these visual tics, certainly. What I don't understand is how someone who is familiar with his oeuvre could deny their very existence.

Published under: Movie Reviews