OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL directed by Sam Raimi, written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire based on the works of L. Frank Baum, with James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Zach Braff. A Walt Disney Pictures release. 131 minutes. Opens Friday (March 8). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
Ostensibly a prequel to MGM's The Wizard Of Oz, Disney's Oz The Great And Powerful is nothing like the classic 1939 fantasy. It's an empty spectacle in which actors race through green-screen landscapes and battle CG beasties that never seem quite as real as they should.
James Franco breezes through the role of Oscar Diggs, a carnival showman in 1905 Kansas who gets blown into the mythical Oz and charged with saving the realm from a wicked witch. He's a fraud, but no one believes that, so eventually he has to figure out how to be a hero.
Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz are magically inclined denizens of Oz with whom the vainglorious "wizard" becomes entangled, leading to jealous rivalries and the rise of a certain green-skinned harpy. Zach Braff and Joey King supply the voices of his digitally realized sidekicks.
The ideas come from L. Frank Baum's novels, but the real inspiration here is Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. Aping Burton's approach at every turn, Raimi piles on the elaborate sets and visual effects, burying his own sensibility in the process.