The Wizard of Oz

The complementary Blu-ray that Warner Brothers sent to me of this beloved classic is a treasured gift. The print is so clear, the color so vibrant, I feel as though I have re-discovered a new version. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. Blu-ray discs are often promoted for science fiction spectaculars with lots of special effects. That’s a valid genre, but to me, the most convincing benefits concerning the Blu-ray format is re-visiting the past and watching these masterpieces in a way not appreciated since the original release. I cannot overstate how beautiful this film looks.

PhotobucketIf ever there was a movie that was better than the book, The Wizard of Oz is it. I have nothing against the 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It’s a classic in it’s own right, but this dramatic adaptation is simply one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s difficult for me to independently assess its merits because, like the rest of us, I first watched it when I was very very young and continued to watch it throughout the years. As much a part of my childhood as Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Cub Scouts and school. But right there is a validation of the picture’s virtue. No other production save for perhaps It’s a Wonderful Life, The Ten Commandments or The Sound of Music, represents such a defining example of movies shown regularly on TV. It’s pretty much a shared reality as humans on planet Earth. Virtually everyone has seen this film.

As with any fantasy, the visual displays are important, but would be nothing without a cast that can engage the emotions. Judy Garland is perfection and it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the character. Sorry Shirley Temple. Garland had an incredibly successful career in Hollywood as she was recognized for many roles. For the rest of the actors, these are the parts for which they are primarily known to modern audiences: Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and Billie Burke are memorable. If I have a quibble with anything, I’d have to say that Bert Lahr plays the cowardly Lion almost like he’s the 4th stooge. He’s likable. I don’t begrudge him that, but his song “If I Were King of the Forest” is my least favorite in a musical score full of winners. Preceding their introduction to the Wizard, it’s a bit of a drag on the narrative at a point where we are on the edge of our seat. The Munchkins are a captivating delight, the flying monkeys give me the creeps, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the villain. Along the way Dorothy encounters a particularly nasty individual known as The Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal is so iconic I believe we underestimate the brilliance of her performance. I still have trouble believing that the sum of her appearances only amount to 12 minutes of screen time. She is the very definition of what it means to be a witch.

The story is as familiar as your own name. A young girl from Kansas, bored with her life, yearns for a more exciting one “over the rainbow.” A horrific tornado, which continues to amaze, hits her cherished farm and whisks her, house and all, to the wonderful world of Oz where she meets a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion. They join forces to help her get back to Kansas by visiting the Wizard who they’ve heard can reunite her with her family. The spectacle was expensive for its time and it shows. Even though it was a success, it did not show a large profit until the 1949 re-release. Regardless it was obviously money well spent. The production design is beyond compare. That early shot where she steps out of her black and white sepia toned existence into a land of color is practically a religious experience the way it’s presented here. You’ve seen it before but think back to when you first witnessed the transformation and it’s one of the most exhilarating moments in movies. Seven decades later, everything continues to dazzle: the performances, the sets, the costumes, the music. It is such a force of goodness. There may very well be people who dislike this film, but I have no desire to meet them.

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17 Responses to “The Wizard of Oz”

  1. May want to delete your last sentence, as our friend Fernando, who we know very well from the blogosphere, does not like this one very much… :/ Guess you don’t want to meet my sister either, haha, she thinks it’s clichéd. I’d give this 3.5/5, and I know I’d get stoned for doing so. Maybe 4/5 upon rewatch, but I can’t do that. We lent our friends the disc a few years ago, they said they’d return it ASAP, and to this day it is still not in our movie collection. Really sad, because I cherish it. I got it for Christmas when I was, like, six years old and obsessed with the movie. Wonderful review.

    P.S.: Of the four films you mentioned that appear on TV regularly, the only one I really notice on a lot (around Christmas, of course) is It’s a Wonderful Life. The others I have yet to catch on TV. The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, was recorded by my parents from TV to a videotape when I was five or six years old so they could introduce me to it. Maybe it’s just the area I live in…

    • My friend, I say this with kindness, but unless your sister was born in 1919 and had been watching films for 20 years by the time The Wizard of Oz came out, she couldn’t possibly call it clichéd. There really hadn’t been anything like it up until then. Films that followed from this might be considered clichéd, but never the original.

      3.5 isn’t a bad review, but it seems pretty low for something you cherish and were obsessed with. I love the details you give though. Always such thoughtful comments.

      • The Wizard of Oz, come to think of it, is the oldest film she saw–save for Gone with the Wind, which I was surprised she actually sit through at age 6. She’s 10 now, but still she has no right to call it clichéd when she knows nothing about films of that era. We’re going to watch the Artist as a family soon, plus my cousins and grandparents, and she has proclaimed that she doesn’t care if she’s the only one sitting out. I try to leave good comments on films I’m familiar with,

  2. I loved your review! Every thing about it makes me want to view Wizard of Oz again. This time I want to see it in Blu-ray format to see if it is as great as you say. I have always enjoyed numerous viewing of this classic and agree I probably would not like meeting someone who didn’t like it. Judy Garland was perfect in the role and when I hear the names Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley I think of them as the characters in this film. I remember Billie Burke for many more roles than the good witch. Thanks for reminding me it is time to see this film again.

    • Thank you! I’m inclined to agree with you about Burke as I have seen her in Dinner at Eight, Topper and the original Father of the Bride. Didn’t think many of my peers have seen those films however.

  3. kathy Ailand Says:

    Lions, Tigers & Bears on my! my personal favorite.

  4. When my wife and I watched this (it’s her favorite movie) neither of us ever knew the Tin Man had rivets on his face and all the detail that went into his costume. We were both blown away. I think this is a clear case of Blu-Ray making the film look better than it’s ever looked. There’s no way it even looked that good when it was first released. Great review!

  5. If I ever have kids, this will be one movie I’ll make sure to show them. It’s considered a classic for a reason.

  6. martin250 Says:

    great review. i can understand your perfect rating. i plan on watching this again.

  7. sanclementejedi Says:

    Nice write up Mark, I look forward to checking this out on Blu ray, I have only seen the film when it’s been on TV. Obviously my four year-old was a big fan when we watched it recently. Looks like another film to add to my list of wants.

  8. Excellent write-up as always, Mark! I’m a little bummed that you don’t want to meet me, though </3 hehe.

  9. “Virtually everyone has seen this film.” Um… good thing you said virtually as I actually haven’t seen this [runs over and hide]

    Your last sentence scares me a bit as I don’t know how I’d feel about this one. But hey, to each their own, if I don’t want to meet someone just because they hate one of my favorite films, I’d be quite lonely, ahah.

    • There’s something different about this film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that represents such joy. To dislike this film is to dislike the expression of happiness. It’s just goodness personified.

  10. What can I say about this classic. It’s still amazing even after all these years. And it looked amazing on blu-ray. Crystal clear.

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