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March 02. 2013 3:12AM

Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club: You know the monkeys, but have you met the wizard yet?


 

The Land of Oz is coming back to the big screen.

"Oz the Great and Powerful" hits movie theaters this coming Friday. Directed by Sam Raimi, the film looks to be quite the spectacle to behold. But will it be any good?

The cast is a talented one, but that doesn't always translate to success. James Franco ("127 Hours," which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor) stars as Oscar Diggs, the man who will become the Wizard of Oz.

The witches also figure prominently in the movie, with Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams taking on those roles. Fans of the original "The Wizard of Oz" will also be pleased to note that there will be the familiar faces of the flying monkeys and munchkins, as well.

The story centers on Franco's Oscar, who is transported to Oz in a hot air balloon during a violent storm, not unlike the way Dorothy finds her way to the strange world in the original film.

Oscar's transformation into the wizard of Oz, as well as the changes of the witches into the ones we know in the 1939 movie, are central plots in the new movie.

Kunis plays Theodora, the sister witch who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. Williams is Glinda, who we know as the Good Witch of the East in the original movie. That leaves Weisz as Evanora, who can't get out of the way of a falling house in the original film.

While some purists might find it offensive for a new film to add to the Oz mythos, there is actually plenty more to the story than we see in the classic 1939 film. Creator L. Frank Baum wrote two Oz books and also wove other parts of the land into stage productions, so there is a lot more to the tale than seen on screen in "The Wizard of Oz."

Adaptations and re-imaginings of other classics, such as "Alice in Wonderland" (which was made into a 2010 movie by director Tim Burton but was not well-received by critics and did make a lot of money), have been hit-or-miss.

Burton's career has taken a downward with duds like last year's "Dark Shadows." (His early hits included "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice.") Burton's films feel the same (perhaps because he so often uses Johnny Depp and wife Helena Bonham Carter in lead roles).

Raimi's efforts have a varied and more fluid feel to them, and Raimi has dabbled in numerous genres, usually to solid effect. That's a major reason I think "Oz the Great and Powerful" has a chance to be quite good.

But I can't help but wonder what will happen when you watch the new move with Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" playing?

Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Check out his podcast "Nerdherders" on iTunes or at www.3nerds.us, and his books, "Prophecy of Shadows" and "Plains of the Past." His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.



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