Update (2/22/11) : Downey is out, James Franco is in!
Moviefone's Cinematical reports that Sam Raimi will make the Disney-produced "Wizard of Oz" prequel that starts with the Wizard's circus days. That's terrific news, partly because Raimi's top choice for the Wizard is Robert Downey Jr., and Disney has long been wooing Downey for the role. Downey is a great actor adept at playing showmen like Charlie Chaplin and Tony Stark. And Raimi is a great actor's director.
Cultists still revere Raimi for his "Evil Dead" movies (and "Evil Dead II" is a black-comic Grand Guignol masterpiece). But ever since his devastating adaptation of the psychological thriller "A Simple Plan" a dozen years ago, Raimi has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to wrest multifaceted and unexpected performances from gifted, idiosyncratic performers like Billy Bob Thornton.
In his "Spider-Man" movies Raimi displayed a knack for making special effects both visceral and lyrical. And Raimi has the smarts to realize that part of the enduring power of the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" is how scary it dares to be with its Wicked Witch and Winged Monkeys.
Entertainment pundits have questioned whether Raimi has too fierce a sensibility for the material -- a hopeful sign, because that's how some people reacted to the selection of Victor Fleming to take over the '39 movie.
I say Raimi and Downey are inspired choices. What do you say?