Everywhere you turn nowadays, James Franco's name seems to pop up inevitably, whether it's on the topic of upcoming franchise reboots (Rise of the Apes), Broadway shows (Sweet Bird), or adaptations of literary masterpieces. Now the man's said to possibly be joining another new project, Sam Raimi's Oz, the Great and Powerful.
One of half a dozen or so Wizard of Oz movies in the works, the risque fantasy pic would reunite the actor with his Spider-Man trilogy director, but might also throw a wrench in Franco's plans to shoot As I Lay Dying this summer.
Johnny Depp was poised to replace Robert Downey Jr. in Raimi's Oz flick, but Heat Vision says the eccentric character actor ultimately passed on the role - possibly because production on Depp's next collaboration with director Tim Burton, Dark Shadows, looks increasingly likely to get underway this spring. Disney is now eying Franco to star as the titular Great and Powerful Oz, a rapscallion whose philandering ways forces him to flee the real world and end up somewhere over the rainbow instead.
The Mouse House and producer Joe Roth are essentially using the same formula that proved so effective (or at least, profitable) with last year's Alice in Wonderland for Oz, the Great and Powerful: take a cherished literary classic that's already been successfully adapted to the film medium before and give it a new, big-budget enhanced spin under the direction of an autuer known for their off-kilter sensibilities and sense of humor. Will box office lightning strike twice as well?
Though it might not seem so at first glance, Franco is arguably in many ways a better fit to star in Raimi's Oz movie than either Downey Jr. or Depp. He's younger than either of those fine gents, has the looks to be convincing as a womanizer, and his most recent screen appearances in pics like 127 Hours and The Green Hornet (and to a lesser degree Howl) have seen Franco playing energetic, cocky young men whose free-spirited ways land them in hot water - or, rather, becoming disillusioned with modern society, losing a limb or getting blown up. The Wizard of Oz will have it relatively easy, by comparison.
If Franco does sign on for Raimi's film, that means he won't be available for the Linda Lovelace biopic, but he might still have time to shoot his William Faulkner adaptation first, since Disney wants production on Oz, the Great and Powerful going by the second half of 2011. How Franco is going to manage teaching an Editing Master Class about his films (you read that correctly) in between all of this is anyone's guess. Best of luck to the fellow all the same.
Depending on when principal photography actually begins, Raimi's project could be the first upcoming Wizard of Oz movie to hit theaters, beating out the 3D animated Dorothy of Oz, Mike Johnson's CG/stop-motion Oz Wars and Drew Barrymore's potential directing vehicle, Surrender Dorothy. As with all the in-development Snow White movies, each of these films hopes to offer their own unique spin on a classic story that people far and wide know too well. We'll just have to wait and see how it all eventually pans out.