“Kansas is full of good men. I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.” Such are the promising opening words of the trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz that will come out next spring. The words are uttered by James Franco, in the part of Oscar Diggs, a magician who, like Dorothy later, travels by tornado to Oz—where, apparently, he becomes the famous wizard.
Franco is surrounded by three very talented women playing witches: Michelle Williams as Glinda, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Mila Kunis as Theodora. Only Kunis gets much screen time in the trailer, and seems somewhat out of place—in her best roles to date, she has a down-to-earth quality not entirely right for Oz. A better fit for the magical territory, and perhaps the highlight of the whole thing, is what I take to be a baby flying monkey.
Whatever it is, that little creature is a triumph of production design. The look of the film in the trailer alternately dazzles and disappoints. Some shots, like the one of Diggs and Theodora on the Yellow Brick Road with the Emerald City in the distance (an homage, it seems, to the 1939 classic), have a lovely, painterly quality. But other landscapes have the look of standard-issue Hollywood CGI. (In case the flames escaping the letterbox borders in the black-and-white sequence didn’t make this obvious, the film will, not surprisingly, be in 3-D.)
The trailer ends on a visually awkward note: the green arm of a witch, scraping against stone. The image sets up an intriguing storyline—does Kunis’s seemingly good witch go bad? or is it one of the others?—but the arm itself, with those long fingers and nails, has a campy feel, undercutting some of the splendor that came before.
It’s a little bit nuts, of course, to attempt a prequel to one of the greatest movies ever made. But director Sam Raimi has done good work in the past, so perhaps the more promising signs here are the ones to trust. It’ll be a while before we find out, in any case: Oz: The Great and Powerful comes out in March of 2013.