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James Franco as Oz, left, with Finley, voiced by Zach Braff. AP Photo / Disney Enterprises
James Franco as Oz, left, with Finley, voiced by Zach Braff. AP Photo / Disney Enterprises

Oz the Great and Powerful

Seamlessly blending physical sets with CGI, Oz the Great and Powerful looks sumptuous, immersing you in a psychedelic universe.

Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
****

Nothing's ever sacred in Hollywood, of course, and that includes The Wizard of Oz. Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to events in the 1939 classic - though before you start mouthing "How dare they?", consider that he's not the first to revisit the Emerald City. As far back as 1985, Disney produced Return to Oz, sending Dorothy back along the Yellow Brick Road - a film quite faithful, in its own way, to the series of books written by L Frank Baum that inspired the original movie.

Likewise, Raimi humbly pays his respects to both Baum and the Judy Garland-starring movie - showing how two-bit Nebraska magician Oscar Diggs became the Wizard of Oz. The black-and-white prologue deliberately echoes its predecessor, as Diggs (James Franco) gets whisked away via a tornado to Oz, only for the screen to burst into glorious colour as our hero arrives in this lush new landscape. It's a wonderful moment in Raimi's film, made more so by the impressive 3-D visuals.

Seamlessly blending physical sets with CGI, Oz the Great and Powerful looks sumptuous, immersing you in a psychedelic universe much like James Cameron's 3-D Avatar did. Following his Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi approaches the Land of Oz with the same fanboy affection, while switching his focus from Dorothy (who, of course, is never mentioned since this is before her time) to Diggs, a rather selfish, greedy mercenary who is assumed by all to be the saviour of Oz.

First encountering Oz royalty in the shape of Mila Kunis' Theodora and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Diggs is promised countless riches if he fulfils the prophecy and defeats the all-powerful sorceress Glinda (Michelle Williams), who reputedly poisoned their father. Of course, it doesn't take a wizard to realise this is subterfuge on the part of the scheming Evanora, who is soon commanding an army of fang-toothed flying baboons (remember them?) to head for Diggs and co.

Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abraire, the story of Digg's self-awakening is hardly groundbreaking, but it's all done with great love for what's gone before. Like the original, actors from the Earth-bound prologue reappear in Oz - notably Zach Braff, who has a riot voicing a wisecracking, winged monkey. There's even a musical number, though here the film falls short. After all, how can you top We're Off to See the Wizard? That would be conjuring up too much magic, even for Raimi.

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