Deadline is reporting that James Franco has closed a deal (in fact, the biggest deal of his career) to play the title role in Sam Raimi’s upcoming prequel, Oz: The Great and Powerful. On one hand this makes a lot of sense: They already know each other. In fact, this will be the fourth time that the pair has worked together, as Raimi directed Franco in three Spider-Man films.
But with Mila Kunis already on board as the younger version of the Wicked Witch of the West, we can’t help but wonder if this is a weird attempt by Disney to make Oz into a sexy franchise, a la Pirates of the Caribbean. Nothing against those films, but when you’re dealing with a beloved original that’s as ingrained in the collective subconscious as The Wizard of Oz, it seems like straying too far from your source material — unless you’re going to go completely over the top, like The Wiz — is a bad idea. And even that completely tanked, both with critics and at the box office.
Then there’s the issue of Franco’s overexposure. Between a starring role in this fall’s Rise of the Apes (which, funnily enough is a prequel to Planet of the Apes) and his usual cultural antics (gallery shows, short story collections, stints on soap operas, college courses, etc.), we’re wondering if this is the best time for him to tackle the kind of giant blockbuster that could make or break his career. Maybe sticking to smaller, indie projects is playing it safe — especially in the wake of an Academy Award nomination for 127 Hours — but it’s also a way to ensure that he doesn’t suffer an Adrien Brody-style downward spiral. Come on, name the last good film you saw him in. Don’t you imagine that he wishes that he could take back King Kong?