It's safe to say that if he had the chance, Judge Ryan Keefer would like to meet one of the flying monkeys, because boy, does he loves his monkeys!
Our review of The Wizard Of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray), published September 29th, 2009, is also available.
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
At this point, those who haven't had The Wizard of Oz experience are those who may very well have yet to leave the womb. Those who have seen it, whether they liked or (gasp!) disliked it, each has a very vivid memory of where they first saw it. The most popular family film of all time was previously released as a very good Special Edition DVD back in 1999, but can Warner Home Video's multi-disc edition be considered new and improved?
Facts of the Case
Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland, A Star is Born) finds trouble in her sleepy Kansas town when her dog Toto soils the garden of town tycoon, Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton, Brewster McCloud). Miss Gulch gets a legal order to seize Toto, but the dog escapes back to Dorothy. With a great deal of guilt, she decides to run away, but returns before a twister destroys her home. She is transported into another world where she meets a lion without courage (Bert Lahr), a scarecrow without a brain (Ray Bolger, April in Paris) and a tin man without a heart (Jack Haley, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm). They all start a quest to find a magical emperor that will give them all they want. It's usually at this point where I cut myself off from revealing any spoilers, so for everyone else, you can pretty much fill in the blanks.
One of the great things about The Wizard of Oz is that it's comfort food for a lot of people. It's the blanket you can wrap yourself up in and enjoy. In re-watching this movie the other night with my wife, remembering when I first watched the movie in school brought me right back to second grade near the end of the school year. And watching the scenes where Miss Gulch takes Toto, my wife was tearing up. You can never be too old to enjoy this movie. And I think the reason why is that above a lot of movies, this one brings you right back to your childhood when you see it. You don't feel bad for watching and enjoying every last bit of it. If it's not the dazzling visuals, it's the memorable score, or the fascinating costumes.
Above all else, the film's timelessness should be taken in and enjoyed. The singing that the cast, especially Garland, does through the film is top notch, and the choreography by Bolger always delights. The visuals are simply amazing, to this day. You've got outstanding set and production designs, and just watching the transition from the sepia tones Dorothy tolerates in Kansas to full-blown Technicolor of Oz, the camera shots are slow and deliberate, to show the viewer that it's all going to be like this, and to prepare them for the ride. So from that stylistic standpoint, it was a brilliant decision to make.
An even more amazing thing to consider is the lasting impact the film has had on generations since it came out. To think that the film was released the same year as Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and other memorable cinematic experiences, and this one is the one that people remember the most, is an amazing accomplishment.
While many of the same supplemental materials that were on the previous Warner version have been retained for this new version, the other main boasting point for Warner Home Video is their ultra-resolution picture, which basically revitalizes the original Technicolor film elements past their original qualities. It also helps to create a digital master which exceeds the best possible film presentation. So the blush on Garland's cheeks is far more visible now than it ever has been, and the film has never looked better. The Dolby 5.1 audio track from the earlier version has been brought over to this one and isn't bad. But the nice touch here is that the original mono track and an isolated music and effects track are new options to choose from.
As part of their effort to give earlier classics some much needed attention, Warner has loaded anything and everything on this multi-disc edition for any enthusiast. Some of the features were brought over from previous versions, and others are all new. Starting on Disc One, there is a commentary with (take a deep breath) Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Jerry Maren, Donna Massin, Bert Lahr's children John and Jane, producers Hamilton Meserve and Mervyn LeRoy, producer Arthur Freed's daughter Barbara, original cast member Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), makeup artist William Tuttle and historian John Fricke. And Sydney Pollack (The Interpreter) provides introduction to the track and its participants. Among some of the cast trivia is Shirley Temple being considered for Dorothy and Wallace Beery as the Wizard, and debunking the myths while providing a lot of recollections. Those who have passed are highlighted with archived clips, Hamilton being the funniest, and this is a nice companion to the film. The rest of the features on Disc One are laid out as follows:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook: Angela Lansbury, who is present for a few of the extras on this edition, climbs aboard and reads the original storybook, with animations mixed in. At about 10 minutes, it's quick, painless, and pretty cute.
Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz: Provides 11 minutes of information about the restoration process for the film, and provides on the spot explanations for any slang that the layman may not pick up the first time. And the audio mix is discussed for a few minutes too. There's a lot of comparison footage to illustrate just how much care was given to the film.
We Haven't Really Met Properly: Is a 20 minute look at the actors (except Garland) and serves as more of a biographical look for each actor, and a good one at that. Narrated by Lansbury, it provides overviews, scenes from other films of each actor, and some trivia.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Classic: A feature that appears to have been made as part of the film's 50th anniversary, it provides a healthy look back at the film and the impact of it on the world. It has a lot of interesting information, archived interviews and stories, information on Baum and the books he wrote. There's even a bit of home movie footage and on set photos, and the hysteria surrounding Garland and Mickey Rooney is discussed. It's a solid look at the film and its legacy. And yes, the third Angela Lansbury appearance of this set is found here.
Memories of Oz: Produced by Turner Classic Movies in 2001, this includes reminiscing by Maren and a half dozen other munchkins, not to mention Lahr's daughter. Director John Waters shares the appreciation from a fan's point of view, and a lot of trivia and showing off of memorabilia and merchandise from the film by fans and collectors. Want to know why the line "I'll miss you most of all" was said to Scarecrow? It makes for a little creepy subplot that didn't make the film. All in all, a very sentimental look back at the film.
The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz: Narrated by Pollack, this looks at the film from more of a technical and production perspective, with the impact on scoring, visual effects, costume and production design the film has had since. The Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson and Sean Astin share what they think made the film good, and others include composers Randy Newman and Howard Shore, and visual effects experts John Dykstra and Rick Baker, as they share what makes the film so special in their particular areas of skill.
Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz: 25 minutes spent with some of the more enthusiastic Oz fans, including Fricke. The initial television response that transformed it into an annual event is the big part of the show, with recollections and remembrances by various creative individuals, notably Lisa Henson, daughter of Jim. Fricke goes into detail about some of the television projects that appeared since, like the cartoon, and there was a stage production at one point too. The film's impact on work like Star Wars and E.T. is referenced, and some interpretations are mentioned. Consider that Dorothy may be the original feminist, for instance. Overall this is full of nostalgia, but not too much substance.
Harold Arlen's Home Movies: Five minutes of film without sound shot by the composer, which almost could be considered as wardrobe and makeup test footage for the actors, but it also has some onset stuff too, and it's a nice inclusion.
Outtakes and Deleted Scenes: Yes, the Jitterbug is here for those who are curious, and the deleted scenes are introduced by, you guessed it, Angela Lansbury. Ebsen's version of "If I Only Had a Heart" is included set against pictures of Ebsen in the Tin Man makeup. He sounds an awful lot like Bolger did. Speaking of Bolger, the complete dance sequence is here, so is the jitterbug, and a different version of "Over the Rainbow" that's interesting. Overall, the five scenes cover about 15 minutes.
It's a twister! It's a twister! The Tornado Tests: Narrated by Lansbury, raw footage of the created tornados and test exterior shots that run for about eight minutes.
Off to See the Wizard: Cartoon animator extraordinaire Chuck Jones who helped create the Warner Brothers animated stars Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck contributed some bumpers for ABC family program in the late '60s, and four minutes of them are included.
From the Vault: A little ironic, because Warner is emptying the vault for this release, but this feature shows off the awards the film won, and aside from a strange, almost extended commercial touting how cool electricity was being used by MGM, there's a neat promotion where some contest winners managed to get a tour of the set. All three pieces are another 15 minutes.
The Audio Vault: The highlights are the Radio Shows from 1939 and 1950 that feature the cast and are about an hour long for each show, and there are also some random audio clips that run for about 15 additional minutes.
Stills Galleries: Covering 18 different aspects of the film, from makeup and costume tests to the awards the film won, publicity photos, and anything you can think of. The stills number in the several hundred.
Trailers: Six of them, ranging from the initial 1939 release to the 1998 re-issue.
L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain: spends about 30 minutes on the author of the book and his subsequent work, and is an excellent look at the author's life from dawn until dusk, with recollections by his existing great-grandchildren.
Silent Films Section: Baum did make silent adaptations of his films, the first being his own version of The Wizard of Oz, made in 1910. His next attempt was 1914's The Magic Cloak of Oz, followed by His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. And these aren't just excerpts either, each one is substantial and lengthy. Next is a 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz without Baum's assistance, and features a young Oliver Hardy before he met Stan Laurel. The story is a little reminiscent of The Princess Bride or even The Last Starfighter a little in terms of execution, but it's still pretty good. And there's an animated version, made in 1933 that helps provide the inspiration for the sepia into Technicolor format.
Plus if there wasn't enough stuff on these discs, there's a tangible set of stuff inside the packaging too. The original publicity photos for the film are reproduced and included here, ten in all with the cast and set photographs that look amazing, and the promotional materials are reproduced too. In this group, you get a copy of the ticket for the theatrical premiere, and an invitation to it, the program for it, along with a separate program for news related to MGM, a booklet on the photoplay and technical merits of the film, and a poster gallery.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As far as giving classics the deluxe treatment, this really is as good as it gets. The extras are informative, entertainment, cute, and a little bit kitschy, and there are a ton of them, which is what any film enthusiast would hope for.
From the 1939 film premiere booklet: "For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return—and to the Young in Heart—we dedicate this picture." Warner Home Video takes the words "Special Edition" and "Collector's Edition" to new levels. I wholeheartedly recommend the upgrade. Everyone should have a copy in their library.
On a personal note, I've said before that one of the great things about writing for the Verdict is the opportunity to revisit classics you haven't seen in awhile, or to visit those you have heard about, and are interested in. So when a studio has the foresight to include a treasure trove of material that enhances the overall experience of the film, it's a reward that continually pays off.
Why was this brought before the court in the first place? Case dismissed, court adjourned, let me get out of here. There's no place like home!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Isolated Music and Effects track
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