Dorothy, a twenty-four-year-old kindergarten teacher, born; raised; and still working in Harlem, is celebrating Thanksgiving with her extended family, but she doesn't seem to be thankful for much in life. She lives a self-imposed sheltered life; she is shy and unfulfilled. Things change for her when she is caught in a snowstorm while chasing after her dog, Toto. They are transported to the mysterious Land of Oz, where she is informed that the only possible way to find her way back home is through the assistance of the powerful wizard in Emerald City. As she goes searching for him, she befriends some creatures who are facing problems in life just as she is. In their quest to find and get help from the wizard, they also face Evillene, the equally evil sister of Evermean, the wicked witch, whom Dorothy inadvertently killed when she arrived in Oz, and who may be their biggest obstacle in achieving their goals.Written by
Ted Ross reprised his role as the Cowardly Lion from the 1974 Broadway production. See more »
After Dorothy is awakened by the Tin Man's tears, she sits up and wipes her face with both hands. In the next shot, however, when Toto awakens, Dorothy is still sleeping because her hands and arms are still down. See more »
A Wickedly Misbegotten Mess Manages a Few Bright Spots But Not Enough 30 Years Later
It's a bit confounding as to why this legendary 1978 fiasco would warrant a 30th Anniversary Edition DVD, even though in hindsight, this elaborately conceived film is not quite as bad as I recall. That's not to say it's a neglected masterpiece. Not by a long shot. Directed by the estimable Sidney Lumet ("Long Day's Journey Into Night", "Network", last year's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), the epic-length film is a regrettable misfire on several counts with its chief liability being a rickety story structure due to an early-career foible of a screenplay by current schlock-master Joel Schumacher ("Batman Forever", "The Phantom of the Opera"). The 1975 Broadway musical version was a zesty, all-black update of Frank Baum's original story that became a long-running hit. Schumacher eschewed the book of the stage version in order to customize the role of Dorothy, written as a pre-pubescent Kansas farm girl, for a then 34-year old Diana Ross, still riding high off "Lady Sings the Blues" and "Mahogany". Consequently, in the film version, Dorothy has inexplicably become a 24-year old Harlem schoolteacher with a severe case of social anxiety disorder.
Because the original 1939 film version of "The Wizard of Oz" is so familiar, there is virtually no sense of surprise in the way of plot. The challenge becomes watching a dowdy, skeletal-looking Ross react to her surreal surroundings in such an excessively naïve manner as to make Dorothy appear in need of a special education program. That leaves her three road companions to pick up the slack, and for the most part, they do. One can now feel melancholic over Michael Jackson's youthfully energetic turn as the Scarecrow since it is the only time his abundant talents have been captured on the big screen. He does his trademark spins and jumps in an exuberant duet with Ross on the show's most famous number, "Ease on Down the Road", probably the film's best moment. Comedian Nipsey Russell makes a likeably philosophical Tin Man, but it's Ted Ross who truly shines as Fleetwood the Lion in a performance that compares favorably to Bert Lahr's cowardly original. A rather hyper Richard Pryor makes a barely-there appearance in the title role. The women fare even less well. Theresa Merritt has just a few scenes upfront as kindly Aunt Emma, Mabel King does her blustery best to make an impression as Evillene the Wicked Witch in just a couple of scenes, and the legendary Lena Horne is simply wasted as Glinda the Good in static repose as she belts out her one number, "If You Believe in Yourself".
The film picks up considerable energy during the production number set to Luther Vandross' "Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day", but Lumet just doesn't know when to stop it. Like Martin Scorsese (1977's "New York, New York") and John Huston (1982's "Annie"), Lumet is a director out of his depth within the necessary fleetness of the musical genre, and the film's pacing lags over its excessive running time of 133 minutes. The one element that remains impressive over the years is Tony Walton's creative costumes and elaborate production design turning New York City into a surreal series of carnival rides. Most ironically, the World Trade Center is made over into Emerald City and the Twin Towers plaza becomes the setting for an Earth, Wind & Fire-style disco ensemble. For what is marketed as a special edition package, the 2008 DVD is surprisingly bereft of meaningful extras a brief making-of featurette made at the time of production, the original theatrical trailer and a CD with eight of the movie's songs. The movie is a misbegotten mess with just a few forgotten jewels.
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