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RETURN TO OZ ($25) is a charming and very much under appreciated film that features marvelous production design, wonderful special effects and terrific acting from a great cast. It is unfair to call RETURN TO OZ a sequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ, since the films are separated by about fifty years, as well as taking entirely different approaches to adapting the stories of L. Frank Baum. Where THE WIZARD OF OZ is a candy-coated musical manufactured by the Hollywood dream factory of the 1930's, RETURN TO OZ is much closer to the spirit of Baum's fantasy books- including their darker aspects.

Based upon the books OZMA OF OZ and THE LAND OF OZ, RETURN TO OZ takes place months after Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) returns home to Kansas, following her fateful trip to the Land of Oz. Everyone thinks that being caught in the tornado affected Dorothy's mind, so no one believes Dorothy's account of her trip to Oz. While the stories about Oz may be the product of an overactive imagination, it is Dorothy's inability to sleep through the night that truly concerns her Aunt Em (Piper Laurie). So, Aunt Em takes Dorothy to see Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson), a practitioner of modern medical science, who prescribes shock therapy to cure Dorothy of her insomnia and flights of fantasy. As the treatment is about to commence, an electrical storm knocks out the power, which allows Dorothy to flee from Dr. Worley's clinic. Somehow, Dorothy ends up in the river, where she secures herself onto a floating piece of debris. After drifting across a great distance, Dorothy awakens to find herself back in the Land of Oz. Unfortunately, Oz isn't as Dorothy left it. The Emerald City is in ruins and under the control of the evil Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh). Even worse, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion have been turned to stone, while the Scarecrow has fallen into the clutches of the nasty Nome King. To save her friends, as well as the Land of Oz, Dorothy enlists the help Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump and her talking chicken Billina to stand with her against these two evil adversaries.

Anchor Bay Entertainment, through their association with Disney/Buena Vista, has made RETURN TO OZ available in both wide screen and full screen versions on separate layers of the single sided DVD. The wide screen version restores the film's 1.85:1 theatrical proportions, however the DVD is not enhanced for 16:9 displays (thank you Buena Vista). Image quality is very nice; everything appears sharp and well defined. Additionally, color reproduction is quite good. Flesh tones are natural, while the more intense hues don't create any problems with chroma noise or bleeding. Blacks are nicely rendered and shadow detail is pretty solid. The film element displays some blemished, however they are most noticeable in the earliest part of the film. On a properly calibrated monitor, RETURN TO OZ does not display any excessive evidence of digital compression artifacts (see addendum).

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a rather subdued mix, especially in the surround channels. There are some directional effects across the forward soundstage, while the surround channels provide ambient sound and fill to David Shire's beautiful musical score. Dialogue is reproduced cleanly and remains locked into the center channel. The interactive menus are beautifully designed and contain animation, music and sound effects- they are far nicer than any menu on any title Buena Vista has released under any of their own banners. Through the interactive menus, one can access the standard scene selection feature (with full motion previews), as well as a new on camera interview with Fairuza Balk, who reminisces about her experiences working on RETURN TO OZ.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a nice job with RETURN TO OZ, since the film has been so hard to acquire for so many years; fans will want to own the DVD. Recommended.

9/6/99 Addendum: After receiving e-mail from a couple of visitors to the web site, I feel I must address the issue of compression artifacts on RETURN TO OZ.    Several of you have complained about highly noticeable compression artifacts on this DVD.  After turning up the brightness and contrast controls on  my monitor to unacceptable levels, I was able to detect the the large areas of blocky pixels that were the subject of the complaints.  When I restored my monitor to its proper calibration, the compression artifacts were not easy to spot.  So, the compression artifacts are there, but the viewer's individual setup will determine how noticeable they are during viewing.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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