Even with the advance of special effects there will never be a movie as honest and as true to its heart as THE WIZARD OF OZ, with the exception of THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY. But since the latter is too new, it can't be compared to the former. Everyone at one point of their lives, especially as children, has seen this film and has experienced the emotions that Dorothy experienced, the terror of entering the Wicked Witch's lair, her transition from little girl to wise young woman, and this incredible world that L. Frank Baum created and Hollywood perfected.
What makes a great movie? The experience that you are watching it for the very first time, whether you were seven years old or an adult living in an adult world. This film is one of those. Even when as an adult I can see some of the cracks peeking through and some lapses in continuity, who cares? The tornado ripping through the cornfields is as real as the real ones I have seen even though is was really muslin. The moment that the sepia-tones from the Kansas segment peel away and Dorothy opens the door of her house and I saw the bright colors of Oz I knew I was there. The story had enveloped me now, as it had did back then. In my world, this is an utterly, fantastic film.
And what is Oz, by the way? Well, from a little girl (and the child in all of us), it's that place where our imagination runs wild, where everything is perfect, where there is no tomorrow and a yellow brick road will take us to that perfect place filled with song. It's that place where we feel we will belong, and who as a child didn't feel like we were out of place? Notice I repeat the word 'place' because this is so much about placement, places, our place and therefore, our own self-expression, our own sense of self. Who hasn't wanted to "seek a place of one's own' where light and love prevailed only to return back to where we came from, stronger and wiser? Its message is so universal. Truly, there is no place like home.
Timing is crucial for the symbolic success of this movie as well. Still in the middle of the Depression years, when unemployment was at an all time high, it focuses not just on the harshness of keeping a farm, but then throwing a parent-less girl into a strange land who finds a foster mother of sorts who would tell her that the way back home would not be an easy one. Glinda the Good represents this character, the same way, the Wicked Witch of the West represents the darker forces that watch her every move and aggressively try to trip her up. This is quite a lot on the shoulders of a little girl, and having Judy Garland -- not yet the major star but just on the brink of becoming one -- play Dorothy Gale has become casting history. In 1939 she was about seventeen, fresh-faced, innocent and vulnerable: she is Dorothy, and we can't imagine anyone else, not even nearly 70 years later.
And speaking of casting, it was genius to have the actors playing Dorothy's friends and enemies in Kansas also show up in Oz. Since the movie is so much like a dream, it's more than logical: many people in our lives sometimes show up in dreams -- it's even in books about dreams. That they also represent that which not only they, but Dorothy most of all, lacks -- courage, love, and wisdom -- makes their appearances even more intrinsic to the story, so when they grow as characters, so do we, and of course, so does Dorothy.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is timeless. So simple, so honest, but so deep in its messages about love and self-discovery. All of the actors including the veteran Billie Burke would be remembered the most for their roles here more than any other movie. The set direction is made to look as close to a storybook; all that is missing are the page frames. There isn't a false move here, and all those back-stories... well, their okay to read but for the cinema lover looking for magic, it's all here, in about two hours of pure entertainment.
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