Oz: The Great and Powerful: Sam Raimi’s career hasn’t exactly been unproductive, but I was surprised, looking over his IMDB page, how easy it is to divide his movies into three categories. There’s the Evil Dead trilogy and its affiliates, which I’d count as Darkman and Drag Me to Hell and even Crimewave: the weird, wild ones, mostly at the beginning of his career (Hell being a 2009 palate-cleansing outlier). There’s the run of big studio genre-hoppers he made in relatively quick succession to prove he was ready for bigger things: The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan, For Love of the Game, and The Gift. And there’s the Spider-Man trilogy, which seems like the natural fusion of his fun, anarchic stuff and his big-studio stuff. Oz: The Great and Powerful seems like it’s supposed to fit in the “and affiliates” section of his Spider-Man phase: big budget, effects-heavy, and even more family-friendly (think about that: outside of the always kid-appealing Spider-Man, Raimi’s family-friendliest movie ever is probably… Army of Darkness? Darkman? The Stooges-inspired bits of Evil Dead 2?). So as much as big-budget fantasy movies seem to enrage a whole lot of people, it’s hard not to see Oz as the destination Raimi has been approaching, quite purposefully, for some time now.
What worries me about Raimi’s take on this material is not so much that it looks a bit like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (as puzzling as it may be that one of Burton’s less engaging movies made a billion dollars worldwide, it’s even more puzzling to me that a movie I’d call, at worst, minor and harmless inspires such frothing hatred), but more that Raimi’s big inspiration was apparently the 1939, ultra-famous version of The Wizard of Oz, rather than the 13 other Frank Baum Wizard of Oz books, which seems like a missed opportunity. Baum’s work isn’t all gold—in fact, the back half of the series was written largely under duress, as the other books he wanted to write wouldn’t sell. But there’s a rich vein of weird fantasy stuff that could be adapted into new movies; Disney themselves tried once before, with 1985’s grim, somewhat tedious, but visually striking Return to Oz. Given all of the other sources, borrowing the iconography from a beloved classic movie to which Raimi doesn’t even have the rights seems like a fool’s errand. But Raimi’s had fun on fools’ errands before, so maybe this will have that Spider-Man craft.