THE WIZARD OF OZ
As this reviewer has stated previously, his love for THE WIZARD OF OZ ($85), began in early childhood, when he first saw the MGM cinematic classic making one of its annual televised journeys down the yellow brick road. As he grew older, his love for THE WIZARD OF OZ continued to grow, and as we entered the home video era, that love compelled this fan to acquire the movie on Laserdisc and then on DVD again and again and again... and now finally in high definition, on Blu-ray Disc. With all the different versions of THE WIZARD OF OZ that have been offered over the years, this classic motion picture could quite possibly be the singly most re-mastered film to ever appear in any home video format.
With the arrival of the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition on Blu-ray, THE WIZARD OF OZ has achieved a level of video perfection that can only come from meticulous high definition mastering and presentation. Deeming their previous Ultra-Resolution master unsuitable for release on Blu-ray Disc, Warner has started from scratch, yet again. This time, Warner scanned the original Technicolor camera negatives in 8K resolution to create a new final ‘capture’ master in 4K, which yielded twice the resolution of the previous DVD master, thus making it ideal for high definition release applications such as Blu-ray Disc. Once again, Warner has bettered their previous work, and yet again, I am forced to reevaluate a previous opinion and rate the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition as the absolute best THE WIZARD OF OZ has ever looked in the home venue.
As for the movie itself… The MGM dream factory originally released THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1939- Hollywood's most magical year. Utilizing the popular story by L. Frank Baum, MGM created one of the most beautiful and most extravagant musical fantasies to ever be captured in three-strip Technicolor. THE WIZARD OF OZ tells the story of Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) who is swept up in a cyclone and carried over the rainbow to the strange and magical land called Oz. Of course, Dorothy wants nothing more than to return home to her family back in Kansas, but without another cyclone to hit a ride on, she lacks the means of getting there. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) places Dorothy on yellow brick road, so she can journey to the Emerald City, where she can ask the all-powerful Wizard Of Oz (Frank Morgan) for his help in getting home. During the course of her journey down the yellow brick road, a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley) and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) befriend Dorothy. Unfortunately for Dorothy and her new friends, our innocent Kansas farm girl has also makes a rather terrible enemy in the land of Oz- namely, The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), who vows to eradicate Dorothy and her little dog too.
On every level, THE WIZARD OF OZ is pure Hollywood perfection. From the sets and costumes to songs and dances there isn't a single flaw in this classic motion picture. The story is warm, humorous and sometimes scary, but it is filled with wholesome family values that never become saccharine. The acting is nothing short of wonderful. While Judy Garland was about a decade older than the heroine of Baum's original story, she was completely natural and captivating in the film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Ray Bolger's rubber-legged physicality and down-home charm made him ideal for the wise, yet straw-brained Scarecrow. Jack Haley's heartfelt performance makes the Tin Woodsman's search for a heart… even more heartening. Bert Lahr absolutely steals the show with comic brilliance as The Cowardly Lion. Frank Morgan makes every one of his multiple guises, including the Wizard, a total delight. Morgan is especially good at spouting the film's requisite balderdash. Billie Burke's well-preserved beauty and incredibly sweet demeanor truly make Glinda, The Good Witch completely unforgettable. Of course, THE WIZARD OF OZ wouldn't have had anywhere near the magical effect on its multiple generations of audiences, had it not been for Margaret Hamilton. In a performance of a lifetime, Hamilton leaps off the screen and makes one truly believe in wicked witches. Additionally, Victor Fleming's sharp direction keeps THE WIZARD OF OZ moving at a swift, entertaining pace and prevents the story from becoming mired down during the more sentimental moments.
Warner Home Video has made THE WIZARD OF OZ available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Based upon the above-described re-mastering work done for this Blu-ray release, the 1080p presentation is nothing short of breathtaking. High definition not only allows for the film to be rendered and enjoyed at a greater resolution than fans have had in the past, but the higher resolution scanning also allowed and even more perfect registration of the three strip Technicolor elements to create a level of color image sharpness that has never been seen before on THE WIZARD OF OZ. Heck, Judy Garland’s freckles are now even more visible than they were in the previous Ultra-Resolution release. Once again, the look of the sepia toned framing sequences in Kansas appears to have been bolstered by this higher resolution remaster. Fine detail and texturing are improved, as evidence in Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow makeup. Like the last DVD release, all of the hues are vividly rendered to near Technicolor brilliance, but they are more nuanced here than they were previously. Flesh tones are exceedingly good, and surprisingly natural, despite makeup. Blacks are velvety, while the whites are smooth and silky. Contrast and shadow detail are very strong. The film elements from which THE WIZARD OF OZ were transferred display few flaws. A grain structure is visible throughout, some sections of the film contain more than others, but it maintains the organic quality of the presentation.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Other than the modest boost from the lossless encode, the sound is virtually identical to the previous DVD release. Considering that THE WIZARD OF OZ is seventy years old, fidelity is very good, yet it never approaches that of a modern soundtrack. The musical component is thinner than that of a modern recording, but the sound is never harsh or brittle. Additionally, there is a decent bottom end for a film of this vintage. Stereo and surround imaging is minimal, never coming across as being forced or artificial. Additionally, the remix works best as a gentle spread of the original monaural through outlying channels. Dialogue is clean and always easy to understand. Most of the age related background hiss and other audible anomalies have been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving the track with a smooth sonic quality. The original English monaural soundtrack is also present on this release, as are French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese monaural tracks. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.
The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements that have been spread across this multi-disc set. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with John Fricke, along with archival (and otherwise) comments from Barbara Freed-Saltzman (daughter of Arthur Freed), Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr (son of Bert Lahr), Jane Lahr (daughter of Bert Lahr), Hamilton Meserve (son of Margaret Hamilton), Dona Massin (MGM choreographer), William Tuttle (make-up artist), Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy, and Jerry Maren.
Disc one also includes the following Featurettes and other programs: The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making Of A Classic (fifty minutes) this documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury appeared on the previous release, but remains a must see. The Art Of Imagination: A Tribute To Oz (twenty nine minutes) is narrated by Sydney Pollack and features modern day filmmakers extolling the virtues of the film. Because Of The Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy Of Oz (twenty five minutes) looks at the impact of the annual television airings of the film. Memories Of Oz (twenty seven minutes) comes from TCM and features various members of the productions and relatives sharing their personal insights into the movie. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Storybook (ten-minutes) is a program that features actress Angela Lansbury reading excerpts of the original L. Frank Baum story and is highlighted by illustrations. Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz (eleven-minutes) looks at the work that went into sprucing up the film for the previous release. We Haven’t Really Met Properly… (twenty-one minutes) offers biographies of the film’s supporting players.
Disc one also offers a Sing-Along Track, as well as these Audio Only features: A Music And Effects Track, Jukebox (four hours forty-six minutes) consists of scoring sessions, alternate takes and similar material, Leo Is On The Air Radio Promo (twelve minutes), Good News Of 1939 Radio Show (sixty minutes) and 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (sixty minutes). Moving on to even more disc one supplements, one will find: Another Romance Of Celluloid: Electrical Power (ten minutes), Cavalcade Of Academy Awards (two minutes) and Texas Contest Winners (one minute). Next are Harold Arlen’s Home Movies (four minutes), which offer a genuine look behind the scenes. Off To See The Wizard (four minutes) offers clips animated by Chuck Jones for ABC television in 1967. Outtakes And Deleted Scenes is fourteen minutes worth of material, including Ray Bolger’s cut dance number. It’s a Twister, It’s a Twister: The Tornado Test (eight minutes) provides a look at the test footage for the film’s cyclone. A Stills Galleries and Six Theatrical Trailers close out disc one.
Moving on to disc two, one will find more supplemental programs. Victor Fleming, Master Craftsman is a thirty-four minute program that looks at the man who directed both THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND amongst other classics. L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind The Curtain (twenty eight minutes) is a biography of the author who created the Land of Oz. Hollywood Celebrates It’s Biggest Little Stars (ten-minutes) features interviews seven of the original "Munchkins of Oz" receiving their own 2007 Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Dreamer Of Oz is the 1990 TV movie biography of L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter, Annette O'Toole and Rue McClanahan. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz (thirteen minutes) is a silent feature from 1910. The Magic Cloak Of Oz (thirty eight minutes) is a silent feature from 1914. His Majesty, The Scarecrow Of Oz (fifty nine minutes) is another silent feature from 1914. The Patchwork Girl Of Oz (fifty minutes) is another silent feature from 1914 making its debut here. The Wizard Of Oz (seventy one minutes) is a silent feature from 1925 featuring Oliver Hardy. The Wizard Of Oz (eight minutes) is an animated short from 1933.
Disc three offers the full six-hour MGM: When The Lion Roars Documentary. THE WIZARD OF OZ is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player). A Digital Copy of the film is also provided. Rounding out the supplements is a series of printed materials and reproductions that include the following: Behind The Curtain, a fifty two-page, coffee-table book, a Reproduction Of The Original 1939 Campaign Book and a Replica Of The Original Film Budget. A Collectible and numbered 70th Anniversary Wizard Of Oz Watch with genuine crystals completes the physical supplements.
Some years ago, I thought that Laserdisc release of The Ultimate Oz was the "be all," "end all" on this particular film. Then, I thought it was Warner’s Three-Disc Special Edition DVD of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Now, Warner has gone back to square one with their 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, which takes the presentation of this classic film to the next level. On top of that, all of the previous supplements, plus some new ones will keep fans entrenched in the world of THE WIZARD OF OZ for days. The Blu-ray presentation is a stunning accomplishment that is near impossible to improve upon. Absolutely, positively recommended.
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