Most helpful critical review
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2013
First of all, I'd like to cover the music here, but would like to tap into the movie in slight detail as well. I wonder how much Diana Ross paid Quincy Jones and/or Berry Gordy to actually "steal" the role of Dorothy. The only thing in this movie that's disappointing is its leading lady who looks more like someone's retarded adult daughter than she does a teenaged girl. Besides, Mills is the one with the REAL vocal muscle. Ross has a thin, powerless voice that has no business singing songs with such intense verses and meaty bridges/choruses. How Mills, whose career incidentally began on Motown (the label on which this soundtrack was released too) was completely overlooked for the part, is blasphemy. Sure, some of the songs are brilliant, but said "brilliance" is literally destroyed by Ross' strained and insipid performances. Ross can carry a tune, however, she's FAR FROM being a powerhouse. What does she have?...a one octave range at best?
Where the original movie ("The Wizard of Oz") revolved around its "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" ditty, "The Wiz" revolves around its own "Ease On Down the Road," a major and deserving R&B hit from 1978 moment. Other highlights include "You Can't Win," a Michael Jackson solo as The Scarecrow, "Slide Some Oil to Me," a defining moment for Nipsey Russell as The Tin Man, "I'm A Mean 'Ole Lion," a subpar offering from Ted Ross as The Cowardly Lion and "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," a showstopper from Mabel King as Evilene, The Wicked Witch of the West." "I'm A Mean 'Ole Lion" in spite of being portrayed as "courageous," is ridiculously juxtaposed against Ross' again STRAINED and whispery, "Be A Lion." Some people will argue that Ross has "pipes;" in MY opinion, those "pipes" have been long corroded; hers is merely an "average" voice. It's not the amazing "force" most people regard it as. Sorry. It's very weak.
Another potential contender who was overlooked for Ross' part is the incomparable Susaye Greene, a later Supreme who could have, along the lines of Mills, KILLED the vocal score with a voice SO BIG, Emerald City would literally have CRUMBLED at the very SOUND of it. It's a shame that Jones lacked the production saavy to bring what could have been an even greater, re-imagined movie successfully across the board by selecting a more talented, credible and capable leading lady.
The ending anthems, "Home," sung masterfully by Mills in the Broadway play when contrasted with Ross' forehead vein-popping, eyeball-bulging, almost larangytic rendition serves at the film's equivalent of the original's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is acutally laughable. Vocally, she is WAY OUT of her league. It's a wonder a NYC tenement wasn't dropped on her too. Lena Horne's magical moment in "Believe," is majestic and adroitly performed in spite of its OWN eye-bulging forehead vein-popping, jaw quivering delivery which tops Ross' x100 as far as singing goes. Additionally, the psychedelically Discofied "Emerald City Sequence" is a visual, part vocal, part instrumental wonder, but seems somewhat steeped in overkill with its played out, elongated "filler-ish" inclusion in the movie as well as in the score. Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" seems to come to mind here.
Despite an eager and enthusiastic score, the REAL problem with The Wiz lies not so much within its music as it does within its odd, seemingly political lead vocalist's casting. Though it could never apsire to even TOUCH the original Wizard of Oz, it certainly does make for a more "soulful" variation on the former classic from 1936, imperfections and all. At times, it seems "stuck" as it struggles to free itself, plot-wise creatively from the original. It does, despite the aformentioned flaws, hold its own however. Though not comPLETELY diasterous, there ARE moments when one must ask him/herself exactly why it was made to begin with as it struggles to emulate its namesake's simple magnificence. Finally, a snow cyclone in the middle of N.Y.C. that sucks people up??? REALLY? More time should have been alotted for the screenplay writer(s) to have come up with something a little more original? Perhaps Dorothy could have been hit by a city snowplow and dumped in a giant snowpile (unconscious) instead? The cyclone idea was ridiculous and only made the movie that cornier from the onset. Dorothy could have woken up in the hospital with a small blow to the head after having been hit in whiteout conditions. NOT a very cohesive nor imaginative movie and it tried too hard to parallel the original with extremely poor results.