The Wizard of Oz was a cinematic breakthrough when it was released in 1939. It became cinematic because of many different new ideas and technologies spliced together into one film. When Frank L. Baum wrote the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 he had no idea of what a success it would become in the motion picture industry. The remainder of this paper will touch on some of the key points that made The Wizard of Oz a cinematic breakthrough and a major success for its time.
The first thing that made the Wizard of Oz a cinematic success was the main characters. The Scarecrow, Tin man, Lion, Wizard, and Dorothy are all likeable characters in the film. Everyone can relate to one of them and feels a bond with them and their struggles. We all face these struggles in our lives such as; not smart, no heart, scared, a feeling of power, and a feeling of being lost and insecure. With our own lives, we too have the same uncertainties as these characters do. As the movie progresses we learn that they do have the powers that they believe that they are failing at.
This helps us to realize through the movie that we can overcome our fears and weaknesses the same as our heroes do. Of course, there’s more going on in Oz than just that. At the heart of the story is a major theme that speaks to children and adults in similar, but different, ways. Dorothy’s dream is to travel to a far off land, but, when she finds herself there, all she wants is to go home. Home to a place where she feels secure, loved, and warm. This is a dilemma that all children face, the desire to leave home balanced by the overpowering urge for the comfortable and familiar.
As adults, we can watch The Wizard of Oz and fondly remember our own trials and tribulations from childhood to adulthood and how in many ways, it mirrors the journey that Dorothy is undertaking. The second item that made this movie a cinematic success was the soundtrack and score. The songs are easy to understand and have a lasting impression upon us. All of the characters sing a song that tells you the story about their own lives and experiences. It also tells you what you can expect later in the movie from each of them. The songs and dances are enjoyable because they are lively tunes with a lot of movement.
The words they sing leave us with a story of their struggles, sadness, and their longing to be more complete. The score throughout the movie keeps us involved throughout the movie. There are times where the music is happy and we are happy. There are also times of sad and suspenseful music that have the same feelings for the audience. I have done research on this movie before and I have learned of some major things that were cut from the movie. One of these items was the jitterbug song and dance when they were in the haunted forest before the winged monkeys came to steal Dorothy and Toto.
When I found a home movie clip (the only surviving footage) showing the routine, I felt that it did not belong in the movie also. The haunted forest was a dark and scary place where the audience would not believe that you would want to bust into a song and dance. This was a good cinematic change by the production team to not include this piece. The third item that I would like to mention about making this a cinematic success and the most influential piece was the color transition. The movie starts off in black and white in Dorothy’s Kansas hometown.
This immediately grabs the attention’s attention by the way it uses black-and-white (actually brown-and-white) and then uses vivid hues of Technicolor. All of the scenes that transpire in our boring everyday world are presented in the dreary manner possible. Then the setting shifts to Oz, where the grays and browns are replaced by brilliantly bright hues of reds, blues, oranges, greens, and yellows. The final point to discuss would be the special effects, or lack thereof. Back in 1939 there was no CGI or any other special editing tools. How the special effect was filmed in the studio was how it remained in the movie.
There are way too many examples of this to fit into this paper, but I can give a few. You can tell where the yellow brick road meets the matte painting that makes up the background, especially when the painting blows in the wind when the characters walk by it. The fire screen that was used to block the trap door exit used by the wicked witch in Munchkinland. The use of the different colored horses when they are in the Emerald City, this was a simple special effect created by sprinkling powered gelatin 4 different horses to create the colors. These effects were good enough to create an outline that our minds just filled in the rest.
Because of the power of our imaginations, The Wizard of Oz transcends the limitations of the techniques used to craft it. Over the years, The Wizard of Oz has been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that is usually only reserved for the greatest of motion pictures. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t take a lengthy study to understand why multiple generations find the movie so compelling. Not only is it wonderfully entertaining, but the same goes for the issues it addresses, and the way it presents them, are both universal and deeply personal. And therein lies The Wizard of Oz’s true magic.