So the movie toggles between inspiration and calculation, never finding its groove. The “Oz” stories are fantasies but homespun and uniquely American; they connect with us through Baum’s cracker-barrel imagination or Judy Garland’s boundless ache. There’s little to bond with in this one, certainly not its grinning lightweight of a lead actor. Even the Wicked Witch of the West, when she’s finally revealed in all her green-skinned glory, has the smooth computerized features of a video game villain.
Very late in the going, Franco’s cowardly Oscar does become the great and powerful Oz, in a rip-roaring climax that’s an ingenious fusion of Baum, steampunk, Thomas Alva Edison, and early movie technology. At long last, the movie puts on a show, both in the traveling-circus sense and in terms of our modern multiplex expectations. Raimi gets to have a little fun, and so do we. But it’s at that point you realize the people who’ve made “Oz the Great and Powerful” are more interested in building a new machine than in taking us over the rainbow and bringing us back home. Pay attention to those men behind the curtain.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.