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Is 'Wizard of Oz' remake too hard to swallow?

Update: A spokesman for Robert Zemeckis has stated definitively that he will not direct this remake. And Downey is out, James Franco is in as the pre-Wizard Wizard in Raimi's 'Oz: The Great and Poweful.'

The announcement that Robert ("Forrest Gump") Zemeckis has signed on to do a live-action remake of "The Wizard of Oz," based on the 1939 script, fills me with trepidation. The best "remakes" have been variations on a theme, not scene to scene reconstructions of a classic. Phil Kaufman's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was terrific partly because it expanded on Don Siegel's original, rather than merely mimic it. By contrast, Gus Van Sant's second-by-second re-doing of Hitchcock's "Psycho" registered as an art-school joke ("let's see what this black-and-white horror milestone would look like in color"). My fear is that Zemeckis would merely exploit contemporary technology to make the fantasy more palatable for today's young audiences, who refuse to suspend disbelief unless filmmakers make it really easy for them. (Some members of a recent college class I taught couldn't get past the Munchkins' hard, shiny hairstyles.) Still, Zemeckis is a savvy filmmaker. He ought to recognize the one-of-a-kind movie that the '39 "Oz" really is. ("Everything about 'Oz' is odd," Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves recently told me. "It's almost hallucinogenic. I love that about it.")

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I'll be thrilled if I turn out to be surprised by Zemeckis' "Wizard of Oz." But I have much higher hopes for Sam Raimi's prequel, "Oz: The Great and Powerful," tentatively set to star Robert Downey, Jr. as the Wizard in his pre-wizarding days. What about you? (And by the way -- you can catch a great print of the glorious original Thanksgiving weekend at the AFI Silver.)

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