Cult directors don’t always grow old gracefully. David Lynch may never make another feature film, but you can guarantee that if he did it would be as mind-bending as anything in his later repertoire. Body-horror pioneer David Cronenberg recently followed the relatively tame Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method with the salacious and leftfield Cosmopolis. Nevertheless, it’s still weird seeing how easily Sam Raimi has slipped into the role of cosy Hollywood hack with forthcoming Disney fantasy Oz: The Great and Powerful, the first trailer for which arrived online this week.
Raimi is the director of one of the greatest 80s comedy-horror ventures of all time, the fabulous cabin-in-the-woods film Evil Dead II (don’t bother with the humourless first instalment: it’s highly overrated). He also gave us the silly yet fun comic book-esque 1990 Liam Neeson schlock-fest Darkman and the excellent 1998 thriller A Simple Plan, before morphing into the director of the Spider-Man movies (the older, Tobey Maguire-starring trilogy). After walking away from the webslinger following the critical failure of Spider-Man 3 in 2007, he gave us his most Raimi-esque movie in years by way of the wonderfully politically incorrect Drag Me to Hell, an occult comedy frightfest in which a bank clerk is cursed with imminent consignment to Hades after turning down an old gypsy crone for a loan. Sadly the film was not a hit at the box office, and it has taken Raimi three years to reappear in Hollywood’s good books. Even so, when it came to taking on Oz, he was only Disney’s second choice, after another Sam – Mendes.
The trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful immediately recalls the studio’s fantasy blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, the bn success of which in 2010 is really the only reason James Franco et al are off down the yellow brick road at all. I found Alice to be a fairly insipid affair overwhelmed by its own bombastic visual splendour, but it did at least benefit from a dash of Tim Burton eccentricity (if only through the casting of oddball types such as Crispin Glover).
The question for Oz: The Great and Powerful is, what does a Sam Raimi film look like when it doesn’t contain any of the characteristics you’d expect to find in a Sam Raimi film? The closest he has come to fantasy on the big screen was the pretty ropey third Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness, which resembled a Monty Python movie more than anything else. I was never a keen observer of his TV series Xena: Warrior Princess or Hercules, but perhaps commenters will enlighten me as to their joys.
Raimi’s new movie does benefit from the luminous presence of Franco, who seems worth watching in everything he does. And there are all those beautiful female co-stars: Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams in the space of a few trailer minutes offer a veritable bounty of gorgeous witchiness. Yet it’s not clear exactly how loudly filmgoers are crying out for a postmodern, munchkin-baiting prequel to the classic 1939 The Wizard of Oz. Then again, who would have expected Tim Burton’s Lewis Carroll sequel – with an aged-up Alice and Eastenders’ Barbara Windsor as the dormouse – to prove such a smash?
I would rather see Raimi using his time to make cult comic-book movies or slapstick horror than this sort of thing. Yet you only have to note the disappointing late-period efforts of George A Romero (compared with, say, Peter Jackson) to realise that film-makers often do better rolling with the opportunities that come their way than trying to relive past glories.
At least Oz: The Great and Powerful has Evil Dead legend Bruce Campbell in the role of Gore, the Dark Wizard, not to mention the director’s brother Ted (who played the zombie crone in Evil Dead II) to cheer up those of us who are nostalgic for his earlier persona. Now, if only Raimi can conjure a scene in which Franco is forced to defend himself against the murderous attentions of his own possessed limb, or perhaps include a Steadicam sequence in which Oz mows down the Wicked Witch of the West and an army of munchkins… we’ll know we’ve got the old Sam back for real.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.