The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Packed with songs that aren’t catchy at all, filled with people that are more annoying than one would care to admit, and testing my patience with its cartoonish visuals & childish character interactions, The Wizard of Oz may be the staple of American pop culture, and is undoubtedly legendary for its influence & cultural impact but it is also a film that belongs to its era, for it looks awfully dated today.
The story of The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy who’s swept away by a tornado and ends up in the magical land of Oz where she’s greeted by a bunch of midgets after inadvertently killing the witch who used to torment them. The plot covers the journey she embarks on to find the one who can help her return home, encountering new, eccentric friends on the way who tag along with her while being hunted by a wicked witch who desires something she’s carrying.
Directed by Victor Fleming, there are a few things to admire about The Wizard of Oz, most notable of all being its use of Technicolor. Using sepia tone for Kansas segments and bright colour palette for scenes set in Oz, the film creates a sharp contrast between reality & dream world but it’s in the moments when it switches from one colour composition to another that its added weight is deeply felt. Its set design is just as admirable & brims with vibrancy.
Having no nostalgic attachment whatsoever, the film turned out to be an insufferable experience that made me question my sanity and left me wondering what exactly prompted my decision to give it a go in the first place. While I do admire the imagination, creativity & passion that went into its production, I’m also certain that I probably would’ve liked it way more had I encountered it during my childhood, possibly within the first ten years of my life, which didn’t happen.
Anyway, coming back to this musical fantasy, it’s commendable what the filmmaking crew were able to put together from the available resources back then and for the viewers of that era, it must have been a magical ride. However, more than what happens in the wonderland, I was mostly in awe with how they shot the whole scene with the approaching tornado in the background. There were a couple of times when it was genuinely amusing but for the most part, it was just laughable.
On the technical scale, given the year it was made, The Wizard of Oz is no short of a marvel. It was unique in a lot of ways, and the behind-the-scenes wizardry puts it in a league of its own. Be it the camerawork, staging, shot composition, lighting, special effects, art direction etc, the film excels in most departments but its musical numbers aren’t appealing at all, plus the slew of characters that kept showing up as the plot progressed only added to my misery of sitting through this bore.
Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billy Burke, Margaret Hamilton & one ugly dog named Toto. While there isn’t any individual work that leaves a lasting impression, Hamilton did come close with her rendition of the Wicked Witch though, the sum of their inputs yields a slightly better result. The chemistry shared between Garland, Bolger, Haley & Lahr has a natural vibe to it, and they manage to lift each other’s performance up by a little.
On an overall scale, The Wizard of Oz is often cited as one of the greatest achievements in cinema history and it very well may be but its dated visual encapsulation, cartoonish characters, juvenile humour, forgettable songs & my own low tolerance for films like these never allowed me to just sit back, relax & enjoy it for what it is. The same happened with Star Wars for similar reasons and no, I’m not sorry about that either. For me, regardless of its celebrated status, The Wizard of Oz is nothing more than a mere tick mark on a checklist, and I have no plans of returning to it ever again.