BRINGING a famous brand name back to the big screen must be tempting to studio heads in search of the Next Big Franchise, but if only the people behind Oz the Great and Powerful had a brain they'd know that such a route is fraught with many dangers - just ask the folks who made Jack the Giant Slayer.
In the realm of fantasy-adventure stories for the pre-pubescent set, there is no bigger name than The Wizard of Oz, the character created by children's author L Frank Baum in 1900 and perpetuated in several books and cinematic versions since. But the Wizard is also irrevocably linked with the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz and any subsequent reboot/remake/rehash will invite comparison - and invariably come up short.
The 1939 film enjoyed only modest success when it was first released, despite its use of Technicolor, innovative visual effects and young Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow in a Kansas barnyard. The new Oz film is only nominally connected - there's no Dorothy or the Tin Man, but there is a Theodora and a con man.
Directed by Sam Raimi, Oz the Great and Powerful contains familiar elements from the Land of Oz, but there are also some tweaks. We first encounter the wizard as Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a two-bit magician in a travelling circus whose greatest escapes involve ditching the women who unwittingly fall in love with him. During one such episode, he commandeers a hot-air balloon and is swept, courtesy of a passing tornado, to Oz, whose citizens have been patiently awaiting the arrival of a wizard saviour.
"I don't want to be a good man, I want to be a great one," declares Oscar, who then embarks on an adventure that might be compared to a thrill ride in Disney's Magic Kingdom. In quick succession he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), the three witches who will have something to do with his eventual fate.
Oscar's immediate attention is focused on the roomful of gold that will be his after he defeats the Wicked Witch, who is first identified as Glinda before it gets a little more complicated. Along the way he teams up with a flying monkey (Zach Braff) and a porcelain-skinned (literally) doll (Joey King). He also incurs the wrath of Theodora, who indulges in the kind of bad-girl behaviour that Lindsay Lohan would be proud of.
There's a final showdown when the Wicked Witches and their flying minions terrorise Oz. It's up to the wizard to come to the rescue - but will he fly the coop with the loot first? Franco can play the cad but is less convincing when it comes to conveying duality and internal conflict. Of the others, Kunis comes off looking the worst (and not just because she turns green).
The wizard's task is to save the day by making the impossible real but given what the viewers have to work with, it's really impossible.