Warner Bros. // 1939 // 102 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // September 29th, 2009
"To the young in heart, we dedicate this picture." -- Opening title card to The Wizard of Oz
After years of being reissued in several "special edition" DVD releases, one of the all-time great films makes its debut on HD Blu-ray in a jam-packed collector's set. This has to be the last one. There simply is nothing left.
Daydreaming young farmgirl Dorothy (Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis) and her dog, Toto, are whisked away by a tornado to the fantastical world of Oz. Together with her new friends The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger, The Great Ziegfeld), The Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley, Scared Stiff) and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr, Rose Marie), Dorothy sets off to find the magical Wizard of Oz (and avoid the nasty Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton) so she can find her way back home to Kansas.
Attempting to review The Wizard of Oz is like reviewing Beatles songs. Or birthdays. Or joy. It is a perfect film -- a classic that essentially inspired every fantasy film to come after it and one which holds up in every way. Any praise I laud upon it is immediately destined to be understatement. It is the best fantasy film ever made, and certainly one of the best films of any genre. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, filled with iconic characters, beautiful and heartbreaking songs, perfect performances and untouchable production design. It's a movie you can revisit at every stage of your life and find something new to appreciate and love, and I can't wait to share it with my son once he's old enough. I'd like to enforce the once-a-year rule (that's how I grew up seeing it, because it would only air that way on TV; one year we finally recorded it on VHS, but that seemed like cheating), but I suspect that he'll love it too much for that to be possible. Besides, this new 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray release is simply too good to only break out once a year. This is a disc that ought to be watched once a month.
The best news about this Blu-ray edition of The Wizard of Oz is how incredible it looks. The restored 1080p 1.33:1 transfer is remarkable, providing the best-looking Oz audiences have ever seen. Detail is sharp and there is some noticeable grain, making it look more like a lush technicolor film print than it ever has before. The best thing about the video presentation is the way the colors pop off the screen; from the intense greens of the Wicked Witch's face and Emerald City to the deep reds of Dorothy's ruby slippers to the yellow brick road to the pink poppy field, there isn't a shot in Oz that won't knock your socks off. After seeing the movie look this good, you'll have a hard time believing you've ever watched it any other way.
Audio on the Wizard of Oz Blu-ray is available in two options: a 5.1 Dolby TruHD track and the original mono track. The mono option is nice for purists, but I was thrilled with the TruHD surround track; the dialogue sounds great and remains clear while still retaining that classic-movie sound. While most of the activity is reserved for the front channels (the way it should be; glad to see Warner Bros. didn't go crazy inventing an over-the-top surround mix), enough of the gorgeous music and effects work their way into the rear channels to make the mix lively and involving.
Just thinking about the extras in this 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition makes me exhausted. This is as comprehensive a collection of Wizard of Oz material you could hope for, plus bonus goodies like a wristwatch and collectible books. The set comes in a very nice-looking numbered collector's box; it won't exactly fit on your shelf with your other titles, but you could always take the discs out (packaged in a fold-out cardboard case) and line those up with your other titles. The big box is just a bonus.
A number of the bonus features have been ported over from the 2005 Collector's Edition DVD set of The Wizard of Oz (both the two-disc and three-disc editions). All of the bonus features are presented in Standard Definition, in case you're wondering.
Let's work our way through what's inside the box:
Commentary -- Repeated from the 2005 DVD release, this commentary (hosted by the late Sydney Pollack, who has one of my all-time favorite speaking voices) features Oz historian John Fricke discussing the film, intercut with archival interviews with many of the movie's participants: Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John and Jane Lahr (the children of Cowardly Lion actor Bert Lahr), Mervyn LeRoy, Donna Massin (choreographer), William Tuttle (make-up artist), Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man), Jerry Marren and Barbara Freed-Saltzman.
The Wonderful World of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic -- Also featured on the 2005 release, this Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary from 1990 runs nearly an hour long and is actually pretty comprehensive on its own. It covers the movie's production, history and legacy; great for casual fans and completists alike.
The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz -- A 2005 featurette covering many of the creative aspects of the film -- the songs, the score, the production design and special effects. For such an imaginative movie, the piece could have run considerably longer (it's about a half hour) but still does a nice job packing everything in. It's also nice to see guys like Peter Jackson and Randy Newman talk about the influence that The Wizard of Oz had on them.
Because of the Wonderful Things He Does: The Legacy of Oz -- A 2005 piece discussing the impact and slow growth of the Wizard of Oz phenomenon, from its days as a once-a-year-only TV broadcast (the way I first saw it) to incarnations in cartoons, on stage and even on ice.
Memories of Oz -- Another half-hour featurettte, this one from 2001, collecting the surviving cast and crew from Oz to talk about the movie and its place in film history and culture. It runs nearly a half-hour and, amazingly, doesn't really feel redundant -- even after watching the other featurettes on the disc.
Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz -- Technophiles are likely to be interested in this short featurette covering the process of making The Wizard of Oz look as good as it does (it was all done digitally, meaning they only had to handle the original print once in scanning). Even if you can't follow exactly what's being said, it's interesting stuff -- and you really can't argue with the results.
We Haven't Really Met Properly -- Brief profiles of each of the cast members, narrated again by Angela Lansbury. This, too, comes from the 2005 release.
Harold Arlen's Home Movies -- A short (5 min.) collection of 16mm footage shot during the production. Neat to see, but not much else.
Outtakes and Deleted Scenes -- A number of cut sequences, many of which have been restored by pairing the original audio with either still photo montages or rehearsal footage. Very cool. Once song and sequence, "The Jitterbug," is actually really awful (though great fun to see) and would have been the film's only misstep had it remained in the finished cut. That it was wisely excised is yet another testament to just how good Fleming and company were.
It's a Twister! It's a Twister! The Tornado Tests -- Again, what it sounds like, but it does give you an appreciation for the film's simple but still-effective visual effects.
Music-and-Effects-Only Audio Track -- Exactly what it sounds like, with a single channel presenting everything but the dialogue. Die-hard fans of the wonderful score may really like this feature.
Sing-Along Feature -- Presents the movie's songs in a karaoke-style format, with subtitles prompting the lyrics. Might be fun for kids, but probably not something you'll turn on when you're by yourself.
The Wonderful World of Oz Storybook -- Angela Lansbury reads a truncated version of the Baum book, with moving illustrations (a la the Watchmen Complete Motion Comic).
Radio Promo -- The original radio promotion for the film, featuring clips of songs and some dialogue. It's always cool to see just how much movie advertising has changed.
Lux Radio Theater Broadcast -- An hour-long radio broadcast of the Wizard of Oz story from 1950, featuring Judy Garland as the voice of Dorothy.
Good News of 1939 Radio Broadcast -- Another hour-long radio piece featuring host Robert Young discussing and interviewing the cast of The Wizard of Oz.
Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power -- An original promotional piece for MGM covering the use of electricity in movie-making and featuring a few glimpses of the set of The Wizard of Oz. Inclusions like this are fun for the sake of history and nostalgia, but also help to put The Wizard of Oz in proper historical context.
Cavalcade of the Academy Awards -- An archival film put together by Frank Capra, featuring Mickey Rooney presenting an Oscar to Judy Garland; she then performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" live, but Capra opted to cut away to the song as seen in the film. That's a shame.
Texas Contest Winners -- Another MGM promotional piece spotlighting some contest winners visiting the studio in 1939.
Off to See the Wizard -- A short collection of Wizard of Oz cartoons created by Chuck Jones, originally broadcast on ABC in 1967.
Stills Gallery -- 18 separate galleries, running nearly two hours total, featuring a huge amount of production photos, promotional stills and more. Comprehensive and exhaustive.
Trailer Gallery -- A collection of various trailers, including the original trailer and its numerous re-releases all the way up 1998.
That's just disc one. Whoa.
Disc Two features a number of documentaries and earlier silent incarnations of The Wizard of Oz that were previously available only on the three-disc mega-set DVD release from 2005.
Victor Fleming: Master Craftsmen -- A well put-together 30-minute profile of director Victor Fleming (who directed Oz and Gone with the Wind in the same year).
L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain -- A similar biographical piece about original Oz author Baum covering his life and work.
Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars -- Covers the actors (and families of the actors) that played the Munchkins almost as well as Under the Rainbow. Almost.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) -- The original silent film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, presented from the best possible elements (n what's called a "postage stamp" aspect ratio). There are hints of creativity, but what the short film really demonstrates is just how far fantasy filmmaking had come by the time of Fleming's version.
His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914) -- Another silent adaptation of the Oz series, actually written and produced by L. Frank Baum. This one runs about an hour.
The Magical Cloak of Oz (1914) -- A silent film adaptation of one of Baum's Oz books, running about 45 minutes.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) -- A third silent adaptation of one of Baum's books. It's interesting how much his work was adapted in the early days of cinema, considering how little of it has been touched since the 1939 Wizard of Oz (yes, yes, I know...Return to Oz).
The Wizard of Oz (1925) -- A second silent adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which runs about 70 minutes, includes a lot more outlandish fantasy (the goings-on of Oz independent of Dorothy), adds a good deal of tinting (Oz often appears drenched in a purple hue) and features Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy) as the Tin Man.
The Wizard of Oz (1933) -- Footage from animator Ed Eshbaugh's 1933 cartoon version of The Wizard of Oz. It's a faded old print, but originally made in technicolor and created the conceit of Kansas being represented with black and white and switching to color once in Oz.
The Dreamer of Oz (1990) -- It's a testament to just how exhaustive this collection is that even this 1990 made-for-TV biopic about L. Frank Baum has been included. John Ritter stars as Baum and Annette O'Toole plays his wife. I didn't get through the film, but watched enough to know that the transfer is pretty bad and the film seems light and passable.
On disc three -- new to this 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition -- you'll find the six-hour (SIX HOUR!) documentary MGM: When the Lion Roared, chronicling the history of the legendary studio. Like the rest of the bonus features, it's presented in Standard Def.
The fourth disc, packaged separately (in a paper sleeve inside the box), is a digital copy of The Wizard of Oz. Also inside the box is a nice Oz watch (with a green band), a collectible hardcover book about the film, a reproduction of the film's budget and a booklet of the movie's original promotional materials.
I'm wiped out.
It's strangely fitting that this new Blu-ray release of The Wizard of Oz is the first title I review on the format; something about Dorothy's journey from the black-and-white Kansas into the brilliant and colorful Oz parallels my own journey into the world of High Def. It's a whole new world. The 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition is a must-have for any Oz aficionado. And, while classic film fans could perhaps do without some of the collectibles that come in the box, everything included on the discs themselves is great. It's the best Wizard of Oz we've ever seen, and is sure to be on many lists for the best releases of 2009.
A classic film gets an incredible special edition release. Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame (1080)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Deleted Sequences
* Short Films
* Music/Effects Track
* Visual Storybook
* Image Galleries
* Cast Profiles
* Collectible Books
* Collectible Watch
* Digital Copy
* Official Site