I saw Sam Raimi‘s Oz The Great and Powerful tonight on the Disney lot, but the invite came with my pledge to not review it until Friday, March 8th, or opening day. Anyway Oz screened in the main Disney theatre with grade-A 3D projection, and when it ended around 9:20-something a review by Variety‘s Justin Chang had posted. Plus five reviews are now up on Rotten Tomatoes so all bets are off, it would seem. But I’ll hold for now.

Chang is calling Oz diverting family fare with a few portions that connect, but he’s mainly saying that it’s composed of thin material that’s not very involving — “rings hollow,” “gaudily depersonalized,” “visual Baum-bast.” He adds that it makes you want to rush home and pop in the Bluray of the original 1939 The Wizard of Oz , which is where the real nutrition still resides. But he praises the film’s “exquisite” black-and-white prologue, composed in a 1.33 aspect ratio, set on “a windy strip of Kansas prairie” and showing James Franco‘s wily circus magician-slash-con man performing and sweet-talking a couple of ladies.

I have to at least say that Chang is right-on about this portion. The opening credits (also in black and white 3D) are inventive and beautiful and altogether quite masterful. Handsome naturalistic black-and-white 3D hasn’t been seen since…what?…The Creature From The Black Lagoon? (Tim Burton‘s Frankenweenie was animated.) “This is amazing…delightful,” I was saying to myself. “I haven’t watched anything like this ever on a big screen…the first time in my life!”

This section recalls the opening of Victor Fleming‘s The Wizard of Oz in that it lays out character issues and plants a couple of character seeds that will sorta kinda pay off later on. (Of course, if Raimi really wanted to pay tribute to the original Oz he would have rendered this sequence in monochrome sepia.)

Honestly? The lensing, writing and acting in this portion of Oz the Great and Powerful (which lasts maybe 14 or 15 minutes) are better than in the rest of the film, which runs another 110 minutes and has been shot in widescreen color 3D. So I can at least say for now that Oz the Great and Powerful is worth the price just to catch the black-and-white 3D.

Note: Variety is now running high-contrast, Benday-ish, Wall Street Journal-styled images of critics and other contributors.