'OzLand' Blu-ray: Remastered Hi Def Version of Tale of Post-Apocalyptic Drifters Brings Film Over the Rainbow
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following review on the new Blu-ray release of this film is an updated version of the DVD and VOD releases.
A spectacular element of the Shendopen Films production "OzLand" is that the obsession that a central character develops on finding The Wonderful World of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum during a road-trip with a righteous purpose is comparable to the response that most people will experience on watching this film by producer/director/writer/cinematographer/prop artist Michael Williams. Folks already familiar with the (reviewed) Williams joint "The Atoning" will understand this enthusiasm; Williams being kind and gracious in real life is a bonus.
One person wearing so many hats in a production usually warrants jokes regarding whether they also build the sets, provide craft services, and clad the actor in their personal clothes. However, 27 year-old Williams performs every function well and likely could have stepped in the role of drifter Emri.
Williams provide another treat in the form of the (separately sold) soundtrack of the country music in the film; these songs achieve the ideal of subtly helping set the mood. They sound particularly good in the Blu-ray version, which gives composer Keatzi Gunomney his well-deserved due in the copious special features.
The numerous festival accolades, including the Best Feature and Best Cinematography honors at the 2015 Magnolia Independent Film Festival, validates the high praise in this review. The must-see-to-believe Blu-ray version aptly highlights the cinematography. One scene in which Emri and younger and innocent Leif rest among debris includes orange rubble that is brighter than the most toxic version of Sun Kist soda is a prime example.
The following YouTube clip of the "Ozland" trailer is guaranteed to elicit the aforementioned excitement regarding the film.
"OzLand" opens with ruggedly handsome Emri and dreamy Leif walking through beautifully shot post-apocalyptic Kansas (which supplement "we're not in Kansas anymore" scenes when they get out of Dodge) in which virtually everyone else has dried up.
This modern-day George (Emri) and Lennie (Leif) from the Steinbeck road-trip novel Of Mice and Men are drifting through this world trying to make sense of what happened while following the advice of Horace Greeley and The Pet Shop Boys to go west in search of a better existence. Further, Emri is searching for something that eludes most of us. One spoiler is that he already has a heart, a brain, and courage. Whether he owns ruby-red slippers is his own business.
A horribly missed opportunity occurs when big brother figure George tells Leif to focus on survival; Leif not smiling and responding "I'm your lover, not your rival" is an almost painful omission. Alas, the awesome outtakes and deleted scenes in the Blu-ray version do not include that exchange. We do see a scene that Williams and company determine is nothing to crow about and another in which interlopers adorably ruin a shot.
The magic begins when a typical exploration of a devastated structure covered in thick layer of dust scores Leif a copy of Oz. This excited literate man subsequently reciting passages from Oz to illiterate Emri entertains him but does not prompt him to share the belief of Leif that the story is real and that these men are living it.
Although the optimism that Leif experiences is not infectious, the introduction to the wonderful world of Oz colors (no pun intended) the remaining adventures of our "leftovers." At the heart of it, the Depression-era tornado in the Judy Garland film provides an explanation for the substantial rapid decline in the population of the United States in "Ozland."
Watching the glee of Leif on meeting a tin man, finding the abandoned home of a lion and munchkins, encountering a scarecrow who is more Christ figure than lovable dope, and becoming hot on the trail of Dorothy reinforces the sense of wanting to take a road trip with Leif portrayor Zack Ratkovich; his horrifying encounter with uberscary flying monkeys makes you want to protect him in your garret.
Ratzovich particularly shines in a scene in which Leif and Emri discuss what they want from the wizard. This provides further insight (and sympathy) regarding the character.
Emri portrayor Glenn Payne also plays his part well. He is a kind and patient protector of his naive little buddy; his special moments include comically acting out the grotesque version of the tin man that the 1939 film Disneyfies.
The Mice vibe is particularly strong in a scene late in the film; the boys are near death when Emri discovers that Leif has been holding out for a fantastical reason. Many of us would have killed Leif out of frustration and/or to protect him from an existence worse than a quick demise. It is all water under the bridge for Emri.
The climax provides an awesome end to a film with no bad scenes. Only one boy utilizes a chance to go home; post-viewing communication with Williams points out that this rapture involves a subtle element of ascension.
Williams takes a note from the DCU and the Marvel Universe in including a stinger halfway through the closing credits. Our survivor is continuing his journey with a new special companion who is very true to the spirits of both the ascended partner and Oz..
The literally final moment of the film is another reflection of the kind and loving nature of Williams; he dedicates the movie to 31 year-old crew member Casey Spradling, who dies soon after finishing "Ozland." One can easily imagine Williams and the rest of the team missing him most of all after separating to go on to their next projects. Spradling having a prominent role in much of the behind-the-scenes footage results in viewers sharing some of the paid of the principals.