Unfortunately, it comes crashing down whenever Lumet stages one of his elephantine production numbers. His greatest folly is the gargantuan, utterly pointless Emerald City sequence, shot in that disco-ized World Trade Center Plaza. Here hundreds of dancers, garbed in glitz designed by Bill Blass, Halston, Oscar de la Renta and others, boogie endlessly while the color scheme changes from green to red to gold. Trouble is we can't see a damned thing, because Lumet, frantically trying to include everything money can buy, photographs it in the longest of long shots. It's like watching an ant colony through the wrong end of a telescope.
Then there's the Wiz himself. In every other version of the story, the Wizard had something going for him, even though he was a fake. In the 1939 movie, he was a kindly, resourceful old duffer, and in the Broadway Wiz, a dazzlingly flamboyant hustler. But the movie is much more sour. Played- with a lot of hoarse stammering and not much spirit- by Richard Pryor, this Wiz is a miserable worm left to grovel before a suddenly wise and imperious Dorothy, who sends him slinking off to "find himself". Worse still, the movie does away with the beguiling trinkets by which the Wizard convinces the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion that they now have brains, heart, and courage. Instead, they get an inspiring pep-talk form Dorothy. It's as if the filmmakers had decided there was something unhealthy about those imaginative little gimmicks, as if they were afraid of polluting young minds by encouraging unrealistic fantasies. But when you take the fantasy out of a fairy tale, what have you got left? In the case of The Wiz, probably the biggest cinematic boondoggle since Cleopatra.
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