A ‘Wizard of Oz’ reboot follows the prestige road


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There are some people you could never appease with a reboot of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ The original comes with too much nostalgia; a remake comes with too many negative connotations.

But if you’re going to try to placate the rest of us -- as both Disney and producer Joe Roth no doubt want to do with their Emerald City prequel, ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful,’ based on an L. Frank Baum book in the ‘Oz’ series -- it helps if you bring on some serious directors and actors.


Robert Downey Jr. fit that bill before he dropped out of the wizard role; ditto for director Sam Mendes, he of ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’ fame, before he opted out and was replaced by Sam Raimi.

As the force behind a number of horror hits and the ‘Spider-Man’ franchise, Raimi is a question mark on material of this sort. But on the actor side, the reassurance level is growing.

James Franco will play the wizard (he’s the main character, the one who arrives in Oz from Kansas and evolves into the man behind the curtain). No matter Franco’s Oscar-hosting talents, most of us who saw ‘127 Hours’ know that the Oscar nominee can do both subtlety and playfulness, two qualities that come in handy when you’re playing a snake-oil-salesman-turned-wizard; it makes you think he can bring some rigor, or at least some fun, to the part. Ditto for Mila Kunis, an actress who showed both of those things as the free-spirited Lily in ‘Black Swan’ last year.

With the news that Rachel Weisz is in negotiations to play the witch Evanorah -- she’s the Wicked Witch of the East, older sister to Kunis’ Theodorah, Wicked Witch of the West -- the prequel has further upped its stature.

The movie now offers an Oscar twofer (Weisz of course won a golden man in 2005 for her portrayal of a conflicted activist in ‘The Constant Gardener’). Rumors about Michelle Williams joining the cast don’t hurt either.

It’s still a wide-open question whether the film will be any good, whether it will elegantly dance with the mythology or simply trample on it. But it’s at least encouraging to know those involved can tread lightly.



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--Steven Zeitchik