After the Wizard
Iím frequently asked what my favorite film is, a question impossible to properly answer. Like most film buffs I tend to have several in each genre. It is unrealistic to place in competition a classic raunchy comedy like ĎAnimal Houseí against a ground breaking cinematic masterpiece such as ĎCitizen Kaneí. Most films have something to enjoy and some value to the art form. Iíve always noticed that I am generally drawn most strongly to independent movies, mode on a shoestring in a space of time less than many have for vacation but glimmering examples for what an innovative filmmaker, creative crew a dedicated cast can accomplish. It is one thing to make a block buster with nearly unlimited funds but to create something endearing and truly whimsical with the slightest fraction of what a studio film spends on coffee for the cast is certainly a feat worth recognition just for that aspect of the production. The fact is I find the list of my favorite films even more heavily skewed than every towards these independent movies. Unfortunately, when I respond to the above mentioned query with the name of one of these incredible movies I get a blank stare back, they have never heard of them. Now these Indy movies are not some obtuse pre-war German impressionism flick films students cite to sound impressive to their friends , Iím talking about contemporary films that are small in financing but exception in their cinematic worth and entertainment value. They are also readily available to anyone with a computer. Changing how you perceive movies is merely a couple of clicks away. One prime example Iíve recently came across is ĎAfter the Wizardí. This is a delightfully off beat telling of the aftermath of the Land of Oz, after Dorothy stirred thing up and blew out of town. Recently the mainstream entertainment industry has mounted a blitz attack on Oz related projects with a smash Broadway music and several feature films ready to showcase in your neighborhood Cineplex. Iím sure they will be fun and Iím personally looking forward to a couple of them but I seriously doubt they will exhibit the heart, intelligence or courage of conviction found in this film.
Elizabeth Haskens (Jordan Van Vranken) is a twelve year old girl living in an orphanage in the small community of Kingman, Kansas. Like many her age she has discovered solace in literature. For Elizabeth reading ĎThe Wizard of Ozí, the childrenís classic by L. Frank Baum was more than just a diversion, it was a transformative event. Elizabeth wanted more than anything to live in the novel and be befriended by its colorful characters. To the consternation of the adults in the facility Elizabeth has taken to referring to herself as Dorothy. This identification with the little girl from Oz is stronger than any pre teen fascination; she truly believes she is Dorothy. There is even some subtle evidence that it just might be true. The strength of the girlís identification with a fictional character has become a point of great concern for the headmistress of the school, Mrs. Murphy (Helen Richman) who feels it is critical to bring Elizabeth back into a reality.
The scene switches to somewhere over the rainbow to the Land of Oz. since the precipitous exit of their illustrious Wizard things in the merry old Land have not been the same. Since he left the population of Oz has fallen into apathy, becoming self centered selfish and generally uncaring. In some vital ways the denizens of Oz have moved closer in disposition to the people in our world. This becomes a great source of concern to the trio nominally left in charge, the Tin woodsman (Orien Richman), The Lion (P. David Miller) and the Scarecrow (Jermel Nakia). Through some deliberation it is decided that the only way to restore Oz to its former jovial nature is to find Dorothy and bring her back to Oz. the Tin Woodsman and Scarecrow embark on a mission to save their land. Beginning with a trip in the Wizardís balloon the unusual due find their way here discovering their journey was only just beginning. Back in Kansas Elisabeth is finds her life is about to take an extremely magical turn.
Fundamentally this is the original Dorothyís odyssey as seen in a mirror. Here her friends have come after her on a dire odyssey to return their work to its familiar form rather than Dorothy seeking a return to familiar surroundings. The symmetry instilled by the premise is the foundation of the film simultaneously giving the audience the snug comfort of acquaintance while place some beloved characters in entirely different circumstances. Just as the original Dorothy had to navigate through a strange and often dangerous place to return home here the Tin Woodsman and Scarecrow discover our world to be just as wondrous and fraught with peril. It is fascinating to watch as writer/director Hugh Gross cleverly twists this piece of our modern mythology to turn the tables on the audience. Our world is filtered through the duo from Oz with comical results such as when they cross paths with a group of elementary children from New Jersey. Their contextual experience lends itself to only one reasonable conclusion, they must be Munchkins. While they were versed in the daily working of Oz helping the naive Dorothy copes with her new environment now they are the innocents adrift in a place beyond their experience.
For a film with a modest budget Gross did include some special effects sequences. It is to be expected that they do not measure up with the effects audiences today have grown up expecting but what they lack in finesses they more than compensate with charm. This holds true for much of the film. the dialogue is stylized giving the feel of the books while some scenes may appear static when actually the provide a method of exposition that is readily suitable for the entire family. this movie is a rare gem that is exceptionally appropriate for an evening of family viewing. Gross has capture the gentle magic of Oz while keeping it interesting enough to captivate even the adults watch. I go so into the story I forgot it was intended for such a broad demographic. The pacing did come off a bit uneven but that was easily offset by the performances Mr. Gross elicited from his talent cast. Richman and Nakia provide interesting interpretations of the beloved characters expressing their own take on the character without sacrificing the fond memories we all hold for them. the young Miss Van Vranken had a remarkable command of her portrayal of the girl who desires to be Dorothy that there is nothing contrived in her heartfelt performance. Mr. Gross has joined the current resurgence of Oz related projects with one of the most enjoyable variations I have ever seen. His talent as a director is surely based in an innate talent for weaving a story. This film will find its way to that question of my favorite films.