The Wiz

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This was a guest review submitted by Seth Middleton. Thanks Seth! You can submit your own reviews to SquidFlicks here.

If you and your friends want to sit down on a boring afternoon and have an endurance test to see who can make it through ‘The Wiz,’ I’ll gladly sit by with a stopwatch and see whose eyes begin to dart off first.

The idea behind The Wiz sounds like a decent idea. Take the story of the Wizard of Oz and convert it into an upbeat motown song and dance fest. Sort of rehash it into an urban modern fantasy updated for the contemporary crowd. Pull together a good deal of talent and pump it full of sass and sizzle and watch it all unfold in family friendly format.

Wrong…what we wish when we end up watching it is nearly lowering your head in shame and wishing you’d revisited the original 1939 classic instead. To begin with, this film is 2 hrs. and 15 minutes on the running time. Completely unnecessary, if they expect a young audience to not wiggle and squirm and whine and get frustrated by the end of it. Even a patient adult would be glancing at their watch 90 minutes into it because they realize by this point, the story should be well coming to its end but as opposed to the 1939 film, we’re like…’Gee Wiz, we’re only THAT far along?’

It’s riddled with too many show stopping moments, as well as overlong and unispired dance sequences, that it seems the yellow brick road is constantly being roadblocked by its characters and side note moments that we care little about and slows down our story and pacing considerably.

What’s worse is that this film has got some pretty good things going for it technically. There’s great acknowledgment one can make when it comes to set design on this film. The scale is far bigger than I expected and many scenes visually stand out. Its too bad though that none of them are injected with any sort of life when the characters are really in them and there is little camera movement or involvement in any of the scenes. It all feels like flat panels the whole time. They don’t seem to be taking full advantage with what’s there, a terrific scope.

So then what’s left to admire is the costume and makeup designs which I can easily say are quite imaginative and full of detail to make some films even in post millenium stages put to shame. When I did my research into this film, I discovered that it got a lot of technical nominations with the academy awards.

Storywise, if you know the Wizard of Oz…then you know this film’s pattern. No matter what sort of changes detail-wise they do with it, like making the munchkins graffiti art that pops out of the walls in glowing neon, or the scarecrow’s stuffing filled with shredded philosophical quotes that he reads, or that the most upbeat song they got isn’t ‘follow the yellow brick road,’ it’s ‘ease on down the road.’ It’s still the same story. It just injects it with an alternative viewpoint with a spin on details. Whereas one story is about the hard way of life to find your riches, this one refers to taking the easy way there instead.

In a nutshell, the mentality of the two films is oil and water. One seems to want to take the adventure and brace for what lies ahead…this one’s tone feels like, ‘lets remain fearful and find the backdoor.’ That even stems in this film’s version of Dorthy played by Diana Ross. She’s made to look like a mid 20’s wallflower but I’d have to say she seems more like a mid-thirties catlady whose too scrawny and timid to be appealing. The character just doesn’t fit with Diana Ross’s look at all. It’s like trying to watch Hillary Clinton trying to play the part of Little Orphan Annie…not gonna work.

As far as I can tell, she doesn’t even seem to be enjoying doing the role. But when singing and dancing fires up she hogs the camera. There’s such a distance from the get go with the character and we always feel we’re observing her…but we’re never ‘with her’ for the journey. Same story, nearly the same context, but too staged like the rest of the film to really make us feel like we’re doing nothing but watching a multimillion dollar high school play.

The only spark that seems to really be enjoying himself is Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. Under the makeup and everything, it seems like he’s the only one who understands the tone of how the film should actually be. And when he’s onscreen with the rest of the support players you can see that the film tends to work better. But this was before he was given much creative clout and I’m sure he wasn’t given free reign to work on some things with it. Otherwise, I believe he could’ve injected it and pumped it full of creativity. Just another missed opportunity.

So, what’s left to say? I’d say that this film probably has found its mark on a few souls who have added it to their video library or can’t help but watch it when its on cable as a guilty pleasure. It doesn’t really do musicals, the original film, or kids a service. Even fantasy films for that matter. There was too much weight and not enough life in this vehicle. Even the cabs in this film knew to get away from the main characters every chance it got. They knew that what was happening onscreen wasn’t fare for our time spent…even they didn’t want to offer the characters time for the trip. I should’ve listened to them and their cue points.

 

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