Back in June we reported on the news that former Spider-Man director Sam Raimi had officially signed on to direct Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz story. The question was whether Raimi would direct Oz next since he's attached to several other projects, including a live-action adaptation of The Shadow as well as the long-gestating World of Warcraft movie.
However, those looking forward to getting a Rami-directed Oz movie sooner rather than later can breathe a sigh of relief as Deadline is now reporting that Raimi has committed to that film as his next directing project.
Oz: The Great and Powerful will mark the first film Raimi has directed since Sony announced the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise without Raimi behind the camera or franchise star Tobey Maguire in the blue and red webbed suit. Raimi snagged the Oz gig after many other well-known directors were attached, including Sam Mendes, Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) and Guillermo del Toro.
The original Oz: The Great and Powerful script was written by Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) but will be rewritten by David Lindsay-Abaire, who recently adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole into a feature film script. Rabbit Hole was acquired by Lionsgate at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and is now garnering Oscar buzz, particularly for star Nicole Kidman.
Interestingly, Abaire was also one of the writers working closely with Raimi on Spider-Man 4 before the director walked away from the franchise, leading to Sony giving it the now-popular reboot treatment. Perhaps Raimi had something to do with Abaire being given the task of rewriting Oz(?).
Robert Downey Jr.
In other Oz news, it's looking very likely Robert Downey Jr. will star in the film after all, even after he turned down numerous approaches to star in it before. He was apparently "so-so" on the project but it appears Raimi officially signing on and making it a priority has warmed Downey Jr. up to the film quite a lot. Downey Jr. isn't exactly hurting in the popularity department (anymore) so it wouldn't be a total shock if he passed on Oz to do other things, but all signs point to him doing it at this point.
Since L. Frank Baum's original Oz stories are public domain - i.e. anyone can adapt them - it's understandable that there are a few adaptations in the works. However, Raimi's looks to be the first one out of the gate as Universal's big-screen adaptation of the Wicked musical is currently in the formative stages, while Warner Bros./New Line's version recently received a setback when Guillermo del Toro chose to do At the Mountains of Madness instead.
Raimi's Oz prequel sounds like the most interesting version that's currently in the works. In case you don't know, The Great and Powerful tells the tale of the Wizard when he arrives (accidentally) in Oz. He's a womanizing con artist who is mistaken for a wizard but he plays along with the misconception in order to reap all the benefits. However, he soon gets thrown into a "civil war" between a royal family of three young women who end up turning into witches - two evil and one good.
Hopefully Raimi can take that darker Oz story and make it fun and accessible while still honoring the source material, in the same way he did with the Spider-Man movies. Hopefully he doesn't pull another Spider-Man 3 and go too dark, though :-P .
Oz: The Great and Powerful already has a production start date of June 2011 with a release date TBA (although IMDB lists it as a 2013 movie).