Original ‘Wizard’ a classic

In preparation for Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” I decided to return to a classic film, director Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.” “The Wizard of Oz,” based on L. Frank Baum’s book, was made for a then staggering amount, $2.7 million, and only made $3 million in its initial release. The film gained its classic status after multiple re-releases, television screenings and stage adaptations.

There are plenty of stories surrounding the production of this film from makeup disasters to little people being paid less than the famous dog, Toto. All that aside, this film, its wonderfully famous quotations and musical numbers have managed to enchant year after year with a consistently growing fan base.

“The Wizard of Oz” is Dorothy Gale’s story, a girl who is trapped in naivety, but finds meaning in her life when she is transported to the “merry old land of Oz.” For 20 minutes Fleming presents a sepia-toned first act that reminds viewers of how effective practical effects can be to portray a larger-than-life story. Hollywood could certainly benefit by returning to some of these practical effects such as costuming, makeup and prop work. The main characters in the film look just as good, if not better, as any poorly designed CGI creation does today. You simply cannot beat the makeup work done by artist Jack Dawn. The two standout characters in term of makeup and characterization have to be the Scarecrow and my personal favorite, the Cowardly Lion.

There are points where the acting is a bit cheesy and screams 1920s and ’30s Americana, but these scenes work well establishing the characters and Gale’s original setting.

After an epic tornado throws Dorothy’s life into a tailspin, she crash lands into a new world of color. Many view “The Wizard of Oz” as the first film featuring color, but it was not. The first color film predates “The Wizard of Oz” by 20 years. This common misconception might be because color plays such an important role in this adaptation. Fleming’s scenes in Munchkinland and the Emerald City are less reliant on special effects then Raimi’s new film appears to be, but make up for this with colorful costumes and painted backgrounds that easily transform a Hollywood studio soundstage into a magical land.

The film has great pacing and uses a variety of shots to further actualize this fictional environment. Fleming and cinematographer Harold Rosson successfully create sequences that echo stage performance, but break from these conventions and create something only film can. One of the best moments is the first appearance of the dreaded Wicked Witch of the West, who appears in a red plume of smoke.

The movie at points is silly and cheesy, but is always entertaining whether it be one of the three guides singing an expository tune or the thrilling yet terrifying barrage of flying monkeys.

The film has aged in spots and may not entertain all the youngsters today, but any lover of film has to see this Baum adaptation. The history surrounding it is nearly as exciting as the film itself and the restorations done in recent years allow the colors to pop more and the tunes to ring true. Treat yourself to a Hollywood classic before seeing Raimi’s prequel, “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Patrick White

Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.

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