It may or may not be "the best film synopsis ever," as many have dubbed it, but Rick Polito's one-sentence summation of The Wizard of Oz, which he wrote in 1998, has become an unlikely internet sensation in recent days. It reads, in its entirety:
"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets, and then teams up with three strangers to kill again."
Nothing inaccurate there, but it rather misses the spirit of the film–intentionally, of course, and with considerable wit.
I was curious to get the reaction of scholar Alissa Burger, who recently wrote a fascinating book about The Wizard of Oz in its many incarnations. She reports she laughed out loud upon reading it, adding "I can't tell you how many friends have posted this on my Facebook page or e-mailed it to me in the last week and a half!
"I find it particularly interesting in the way it takes The Wizard of Oz out of our genre expectations and conventions (a family film, a journey of self-discovery and friendship, etc.) and resituates them as the plot components of more of a thriller," she said.
She noted that this trend "has kind of taken YouTube by storm," mentioning the posting of a re-edited trailer for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining that makes the violent Jack Nicholson classic come across as a romantic comedy.
Such tongue-in-cheek takes on classic films "draw attention to those genre expectations that tend to be taken for granted," she said, noting that those expectations largely determine our response to a movie.
If you walked into The Wizard of Oz expecting an action thriller, would you walk out of the theater afterwards feeling disappointed, in spite of the fact it's one of the greatest films ever made? Quite possibly.
"Often it is context–and our ability to critically understand that context–that creates our understanding and response to a film," Burger said.
So turning these films on their heads isn't only entertaining; she also finds it "quite illuminating." Which is a good thing, since someone is probably remixing the trailers to Lincoln and Skyfall right now, turning Honest Abe into an action hero.