November 28, 2007

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz: The Movies

After reading the first three stories of the Oz series, I decided to go back and revisit the films that were spawned by them. The first is a film you all probably watched at least once... most likely against your will when you were younger. The Wizard of Oz is Metro-Goldwyn-Myer's musical classic full of quotes and scenes parodied in other works for years. "I'll get you my pretty!" "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" "I don't think we're in ______ anymore!" Yup, they all came from here. The reason why so many lines are spoofed even today is because everyone will recognize them.

I'm a big fan of how the three farmhands, Miss Gulch, and the phony psychic returned as characters in Dorothy's dream as Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard. Amusing is the overenthusiastic actings of the characters and their weird little quirks. The Scarecrow is always stumbling because he is an inexperienced walker, Dorothy seems to show more concern over the well being of Toto than herself, The Cowardly Lion's over-effeminate mannerisms, and The Tin Man rusting up. Jeez, those knot-heads most certainly would have gotten on my nerves. Especially that lion. But I do have to give credit to Dorothy's three traveling companions when they went on a witch hunt. The Lion had a bug net, Tin Man had insect spray... and the Scarecrow had a fucking gun. He was going to bust a cap in the witch's ass!

The Wizard himself... that is, the man behind the curtain... is probably the best character in the movie with his zingers and absentmindedness. When the Scarecrow asks the Wizard how he can repay him for the diploma, he quickly replies "you can't". Frank Morgan was the highlight of the film for me. He played the Wizard, the men who guarded the doors to the Emerald City and the Wizard's chamber, the "horse of a different color" chariot driver, and Professor Marvel at the beginning of the movie. Although there was one line he said to the Tin Man after giving him his "heart" that depressed me: "A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others." Rub it in, you hum bug.

I did pay special attention to the scene where the enduring rumor of a stagehand who hung himself in the background plays host. Although it was debunked already and the dead man was proven to be one of the several large birds let loose on the movie set, upon viewing the figure myself, I can't understand how anyone could have confused the emu or ostrich or whatever with a hanging corpse in the first place.

The Wizard of Oz is so far removed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that you don't even think of the originator when you're watching it, which successfully makes itself its own entity that can be held in a separate regard from the book. That is also the case with the quasi-sequel Return to Oz, somewhat based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, although mostly on the latter.

Auntie Em, looking much younger here than in the first movie, is fed up with Dorothy's claims that she really went to a land of Oz with all its ludicrous inhabitants. Knowing nothing is worse than a young child with an active imagination, she takes her niece to a doctor who has an electric gizmo that can eliminate your dreams. Before this can happen, a storm knocks out the power, and while the doctor and nurse go to check on the power and patients, another young girl comes to lead Dorothy out of the hospital. It turns out that the pained screams coming from the basement are from people whose brains have been damaged by the doctor's "treatments". Unfortunately for the girls, they slip on the muddy bank of a river and fall in. Dorothy manages to find solace in a floating chicken coop, while the fate of her savior is unknown. When Dorothy comes to, she finds herself stranded in a desert, and oddly enough, she is accompanied by Billina, one of the hens from her Kansas farm. Even strangers, she can talk now. Dorothy realizes she is back in Oz, and sets out towards the Emerald City. But Oz has changed for the worst since she was gone. Trees have sprouted everywhere, but yellow brick road is in shambles, and even worse, the Emerald City is in ruins. She is then pursued by an angry pack of Wheelers, people who have wheels at the end of their limbs as opposed to feet and hands. She is lucky to stumble upon a secret passage containing a highly advanced robot named Tik-Tok. Dorothy reactivates him, and Tik-Tok dispatches of the Wheelers and guides her to the decimated Emerald City. In the royal palace, they meet Princess Mombi, who locks Dorothy and Billina in a tower so she may take Dorothy's head when she comes of age. Tik-Tok's functions run down and is unable to aid her. Also in the tower is Jack Pumpkinhead, a man made of a pumpkin and branches. He uses his long arms to reach through and unlock the door. Dorothy rewinds Tik-Tok and steals Mombi's Powder of Life, which has the ability to animate lifeless objects. The group assembles a flying creature by tying together a pair of sofas, utilizing large leaves for wings and mounting the head of an antlered creature called a gump in the front. The magical powder brings the thing to life, and Dorothy, Jack, Billina and Tik-Tok ride it out of the window of the tower. They fly towards the mountain of The Nome King to save the Scarecrow and return the Land of Oz back to its former glory.

The friends Dorothy makes in this movie are more interesting and won't make you roll your eyes with their goofy mannerisms. The Gump has biting wit. Billina has a big attitude for a small chicken. Tik-Tok is brave and noble. And Jack is innocent and light-hearted. And best of all, nobody sings or dances.

Like the first movie, the land of Oz exists only in Dorothy's head. Which means many of the new characters are derived from people and things she sees before falling unconscious.
-The mean head nurse becomes the wicked Mombi.
-Dr. Worley becomes The Nome King, both of whom want to erase Dorothy's memory of Oz.
-Worley's machine becomes Tik-Tok.
-A jack o' lantern becomes Jack Pumpkinhead.
-A medic pushing a squeaky cot becomes a Wheeler.
-The young girl who helps Dorothy escape the hospital becomes Ozma.
-Dorothy's favorite hen from the farm Billina shows up with her, but now with the ability to talk.

Return to Oz introduces Fairuza Balk as the perfect Dorothy Gale, and she has also gone on to star in other notable films such as The Craft and The Waterboy. She did a lot more, those are just the other roles I've seen her in. Yeah, I don't watch too many movies. She is also Wiccan and single, the latter giving me another goal to shoot for in life.

And that's just the way it is.
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