For baby boomers who cherished it as an annual television event, for younger adults who have seen it only on video, if at all, and for the new generation of kids across the nation, nothing could be more welcome than Warner Bros.’ reissue of MGM’s 1939 “The Wizard of Oz.” A work of almost staggering iconographic, mythological, creative and simple emotional meaning, at least for American audiences, this is one vintage film that fully lives up to its classic status and should play with outstanding success to contemporary audiences of all ages.
Happily, Warners has done a first-rate job in technologically reproducing and enhancing the look and sound of the picture. The initial black-and-white Kansas section has been printed in an attractive, subtle sepia, and the special effects involved in creating the twister are outstanding even by today’s standards. On a dramatic level, these early sequences depicting Dorothy’s farm life and the characters around her possess an impressive economy and generate a surprising amount of feeling on their own.
The moment when Dorothy opens the door on the riot of color that is Munchkinland still represents one of the great visual coups in the history of American cinema, and leads to the extended musical sequence involving the little people that has no known equivalent; even while reveling in the fabulous music, clever lyrics, berserk art direction and costume design, and amazing faces and voices on display, film-wise, viewers will no doubt also ponder the sheer perversity of the scene’s conception as well as the real-life challenges that went into finding all these pint-size performers.
Seeing the film for the first time in years after many earlier viewings, one of the great and more subtle pleasures can be found in the incidental music and orchestrations; the constant invention in the musical area is tremendously impressive, and the digital sound on the new prints nicely presents the score without distorting or overly amplifying it (during the press screening at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a portion of the sound dropped out around the scene in the poppy field, presumably a technical glitch specific to that showing).
Unlike on the recent reissue of director Victor Fleming’s other 1939 opus, “Gone With the Wind,” the color work on “Wizard” perfectly represents both one’s memory of the film and its proper look; so clear is the print that the string or wire attached to the Cowardly Lion’s tail is quite visible on more than one occasion. For showings at leading venues in major cities, the original 1.33 aspect ratio, fortunately, is being respected; how the film looks in its “adapted” 1.85 prints that will be used in most engagements remains to be seen.
The yellow brick road. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” The ruby slippers. “We’re off to see the wizard.” The Wicked Witch of the West. The Emerald City. Flying monkeys. “There’s no place like home.” These lines and icons, and so many more, have remained in the American cultural mythology for six decades now, and the answers to why they resonate more with deep meaning and feeling than with kitsch value to millions of people lie throughout this remarkable film.