is there left to say about The Wizard of Oz? What more can we add
that hasn't been expressed more eloquently and lovingly a million times
over in the past 70 years?
It occupies a mystic nirvana: a status shared
by perhaps two or three other films at the most which exist solely to be
embraced and enjoyed by every person on the planet. No amount of criticism
can deflate it, no cynical adult sensibilities can mar its perfection.
Critics are particularly aware of its status because we normally take
delight in slaughtering sacred cows (ask me about Gone With the Wind
sometime). But the moment Judy Garland starts singing in that barnyard ,
we're all six years old again, with nothing left to do but join her.
The question of why it works so well - why it hasn't
aged a day despite its clear status as 30s studio product - lies in the
indefinable. Its production values are gorgeous, but lesser films of the
era produced equally stunning visions. Its story constitutes an ideal
blend of simplicity and profundity, but other films have conveyed the
Hero's Journey with equal enthusiasm.
Its musical numbers have endured
seven decades of emulation, parody and deconstruction, but other films
have produced great songs without one-tenth of the retention value. The
Wizard of Oz thrives on all those elements, and yet through some
invisible combination thereof - some X-factor nestled between the lines -
it strikes a chord that resonates in the very deepest recesses of our
Much of the credit still goes to L. Frank Baum, who
created the characters in the first place and whose essence remains
despite the considerable changes MGM put his creations through. We've
become so accustomed to Ray Bolger's Scarecrow, Jack Haley's Tin Woodsman
and Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion that we miss how unique and imaginative they
Each embodies some apparent shortcoming so perfectly and
yet each possesses copious amounts of the very qualities they believe they
lack. It's up to Dorothy (Judy Garland) to help them see that, even as she
herself discovers her own strength and resiliency. Her long journey home
not only empowers her to step past the limits imposed by others, but gives
her friends that same power - power which, as the Good Witch of the North
(Billie Burke) reminds her, needed awakening rather than acquiring.
And for all its humor, music and beauty, The Wizard
of Oz carries a certain sadness with it as well. Some of that stems
from Garland, a desperately unhappy woman who struggled with demons her
whole life, and whose performance here was already tinged with subtle
shades of darkness. But it resonates on a larger scale as well, echoing
the trip from childhood to adulthood and the things we both gain and lose
on the way. The movie's joys hold up because it knows that they will
someday end. But since they are transient, so too are the scarier parts of
Dorothy's journey - destined to fade but leaving a little hard-earned
We've all traveled that same path, which The Wizard of
Oz reflects back at us with exquisite insight. We love it because it
knows what we've been through and because it tells us everything will be
all right. Like those four misfits on the road, we have everything we
need; it just takes a little effort to discover for ourselves.
THE DISC: That the transfer is gorgeous goes
without saying. Warners obtained a copy of the original nitrate for the
digital restoration, and the difference between this version and older
versions can be seen quite readily. The Blu-Ray set contains a veritable
brick of goodies, most of which have appeared in earlier versions, but
some of which are brand new.
Four discs are included, containing a digital
copy of the film for download and a huge fistful of documentaries (one of
which covers MGM as a whole rather than just The Wizard of Oz). It
also holds a book on the history of the film, another book containing
material from the 1939 release, a copy of the original budget and a watch
commemorating the 70th anniversary. Lord knows how they're going to top it
for the 75th.
WORTH IT? Sweet merciful McGillicuddy, yes.
Whether casual watcher or devoted fanatic, serious film lover or just
someone who knows a few kids, if you don't own this set, there's little
point to owning anything else.
RECOMMENDATION: Step away from the computer right
now, drive immediately to your nearest Blu-Ray purveyor, grab him by the
coat lapels and shake him like a rag doll until he produces a copy for you
to purchase forthwith.
- Rob Vaux