We gave it an A
In all the years since Thomas Edison captured a man’s sneeze on film, there have been few motion pictures with as much lasting appeal as The Wizard of Oz. The movie is so ingrained in our collective consciousness — its dialogue so prominent in our pop cultural scripture — that it’s hard to even remember the first time you saw it. It’s as if the story of Dorothy’s journey to the Emerald City were always there, clacking its ruby heels somewhere in the back of your memory. This can make you forget just how enjoyable actually watching the film can be. As a reminder, Warner Bros. released a 3-D version for a limited, one-week engagement on Sept. 20, and has now put together The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1939, 1 hr., 42 mins., PG), a five-disc box set that features 3-D, Blu-ray, and DVD versions of the film.
Looking back, it’s astonishing to realize how much of this classic was left up to chance. During the course of production, MGM ran through three directors (Richard Thorpe, King Vidor, and Victor Fleming), a number of reshoots, and significant recastings. Just imagine how it could have been: Shirley Temple was the studio’s first choice for Dorothy, not Judy Garland. Margaret Hamilton, whose crackling (and cackling) performance as the Wicked Witch of the West has haunted children’s nightmares for generations, came on as a last-minute replacement only three days before filming started and then missed six weeks of work after a special-effects mishap left her with second-degree burns. Meanwhile, Jack Haley had to take over the role of the Tin Man from Buddy Ebsen when the latter reacted badly to the aluminum powder he wore for the part. Even ”Over the Rainbow,” the film’s most indelible musical standard, barely escaped the cutting-room floor. (All of these bumps in the yellow brick road are chronicled in a new making-of documentary included in the bounty of EXTRAS.)
That The Wizard of Oz was able to emerge from such a tornado of production trouble and land squarely in the realm of movie magic is part of what makes it the paragon of wondrous classic Hollywood filmmaking. Nearly three-quarters of a century after its initial release, Oz has lost none of its power to entertain. And because it remains such a fundamental part of our cultural makeup, its legacy endures not just in its original form, but in the countless projects it has influenced across all media. Sam Raimi’s blockbuster prequel Oz the Great and Powerful grossed nearly half a billion dollars worldwide earlier this year. There are at least three major networks currently developing TV shows directly based on L. Frank Baum’s universe of characters. And Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Wizard of Oz musical has just started its North American tour.
Of course, this perennial adulation is what leads studios to trot out anniversary editions every few years. The new set’s many tchotchkes — including a notebook, pins, and a snow globe — probably won’t be all that enticing to anyone other than collectors and obsessives, especially with a $105 price tag. But the film’s appeal is somehow still immune to Hollywood opportunism. In the face of such iconic moviemaking, cynicism melts away like a wetted witch. A