THE WIZARD OF OZ
As this reviewer has stated preciously, his love for THE WIZARD OF OZ ($50), 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 DVD again and again and again... 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 most re-mastered film to ever appear in any home video format.
With the arrival of the Three-Disc Collectorís Edition, THE WIZARD OF OZ has reached the plateau of a third DVD incarnationÖ and with high definition on the horizon, this certainly isnít the last time the film will be offered in a new edition. Utilizing Warnerís Ultra-Resolution process, the Three-Disc Collectorís Edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ betters, the previous already impressive remaster of the film, which were generated restored film and sound elements that created for the 1998 theatrical re-issue. Once again, this is the best the film has ever looked on NTSC disc, but a high definition release will certainly bring the film even closer to video perfection.
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 her new friends, our innocent Kansas farm girl 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 DVD in a stunning transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. As I stated above, Warner has employed their ultra-resolution process for this release, which pulls as much detail and vibrancy out of the three strip Technicolor elements as possible. Even the sepia toned framing sequences in Kansas appear to have been improved in this release of the film. Sharpness and detail are fairly wonderful, with only an occasional shot coming across as mildly soft.
The sepia tone sequences appear to be presented in a more deeply hued shade of monochrome. Color reproduction on the Technicolor sequence is excellent; especially the yellows, which seem more accurately represented than in the past. All of the hues are vividly rendered to near Technicolor brilliance, without being artificially push to an extreme, where they might begin to bleed. Flesh tones are exceedingly good, plus Judy Garlandís freckles are clearly visible in her close-ups. Blacks are inky; the whites are very crisp and stable, while the image exhibits smoother contrast than in the past and somewhat better shadow detail. The film elements appear exceedingly clean, with only a handful of blemishes. A grain structure is noticeable much of the time, but it gives the presentation a truly film like quality. Digital compression artifacts are always nicely contained.
This release of THE WIZARD OF OZ features a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 channel. For a 1939 film, the track really sounds quite pleasing. Fidelity is very good for a film of this vintage, although it never approaches the quality of a modern soundtrack. The musical component is never harsh or brittle and the bottom end comes across a bit more sturdily that it has in the past. 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 monaural soundtrack is also present on this release (although buried in the menus), as is a French monaural track. English, French and Spanish subtitles have also been included on the DVD.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across all three discs of this set. Disc one features an extensive and detailed running audio commentary with John Fricke, as well as additional archival comments from various members of the cast and crew. 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 this DVD release. We Havenít Really Met ProperlyÖ (twenty-one minutes) offers biographies of the filmís supporting players. A Music And Effects Track closes out disc one.
Moving on to disc two, one will find more supplemental 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. 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 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. Harold Arlenís Home Movies (four minutes) offer a genuine look behind the scenes.
Outtakes And Deleted Scenes is fourteen minutes worth of material, including Ray Bolgerís cut dance number. Itís a Twister, Itís a Twister: The Tornado Test (eight minutes) provides a look at the test footage for the filmís cyclone. Off To See The Wizard (four minutes) offers clips animated by Chuck Jones for ABC television in 1967. From The Vault offers three Oz related segments: Another Romance Of Celluloid: Electrical Power (ten minutes), Cavalcade Of Academy Awards (two minutes) and Texas Contest Winners (one minute). The Audio Vault offers the following audio segments: 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), 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (sixty minutes). Stills Galleries close out disc two.
The remainder of the supplemental programming can be found on disc three of the set. L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind The Curtain (twenty eight minutes) is a biography of the author who created the Land of Oz. The 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 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. This completes the disc-based supplements.
Rounding out the supplements is a series of printed materials and reproductions that include the following: The Wizard of Oz Comes to Life - Grauman's Chinese Theatre Souvenir Premiere Program (August 15, 1939), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio News - IntraCorporate House Organ/Newspaper for the week beginning Monday, August 14, 1939 Specifically Celebrating the Release of The Wizard of Oz, Photoplay Studies - Rare Secondary Education Scholastic In Honor of The Wizard of Oz, Magazine, Volume V, Number 12 (circa August 1939), The Studio's Invitation to The Grauman's Premiere That Included Tickets to the Original Opening Night (plus a newly designed commemorative ticket), Deluxe Collector's Portfolio - Reproductions of Original 1939 Kodachrome Publicity Art -- nine portraits and on-set photographs.
Some years ago, I thought that Laserdisc release of The Ultimate Oz was the "be all," "end all" on this particular film. Boy, was I ever wrong. Warnerís Three-Disc Special Edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ is a lot more ultimate than that fine release. Everything from the stunning picture quality, to the even more impressive array of supplemental features, makes this release of THE WIZARD OF OZ the one to own. Absolutely recommended.
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