THE WIZARD OF OZ
My love for THE WIZARD OF OZ ($25) began in early childhood, when I first saw the MGM classic making one of its annual televised journeys down the yellow brick road. When I grew up, I still loved the movie and felt compelled to acquire it on Laserdisc again and again and again... I guess THE WIZARD OF OZ could quite possibly be the most often re-mastered film to ever appear on disc. Heck, THE WIZARD OF OZ is already up to its second DVD incarnation and the format is not even a full three years old. The latest DVD edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ has been generated from the recently restored film and sound elements created for the 1998 theatrical re-issue. So, is the new DVD the definitive home incarnation of THE WIZARD OF OZ? Well, yes and no. Sure this is the best the film has ever looked on disc, but a high definition will certainly bring the film even closer to video perfection.
THE WIZARD OF OZ originally appeared on the silver screen in Hollywood's most magical year- 1939. The MGM dream factory took the popular story of L. Frank Baum and created one of the most beautiful and most extravagant musical fantasies to ever be captured in three-strip Technicolor. For the handful of you that never saw the film, here is a recap of the plot. THE WIZARD OF OZ tells the story of a Kansas girl named Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) who travels over the rainbow to the strange and magical land called Oz, when her farmhouse is caught up in a cyclone. Of course, Dorothy wants to return home to her family, but lacks the means to get back to Kansas. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) advises Dorothy to journey to the Emerald City and ask The Wizard Of Oz (Frank Morgan) for his help. Along the way to the Emerald City, a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley) and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) befriend Dorothy and join her for the trip down the yellow brick road. In addition to her new friends, Dorothy has also makes a rather terrible enemy- 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 done a terrific job transcribing the restored version of THE WIZARD OF OZ to DVD. This is definitely the cleanest, brightest, most detailed and colorful home video incarnation of the film. Without a doubt, this is the closest any home video version of THE WIZARD OF OZ has come to looking like an original IB Technicolor print. The colors are truly vibrant and undistorted by the transcription to NTSC video. Of course, there are minor color glitches associated with the aging of the original three-strip Technicolor film elements, which are beyond the control of any film to tape transfer. Film grain is also noticeable at various times throughout the presentation, but it is far too late to complain about the sixty-year-old film stocks used to photograph THE WIZARD OF OZ. The most annoying flaw in the presentation isn't a problem with the transfer, but a limitation in the NTSC system. At various times, the detail in Dorothy's blue and white checkered dress is beyond the ability of NTSC system to resolve, which gives way to somewhat distracting moire patterns. First rate DVD authoring disguised all traces of compression artifacts.
For this release, THE WIZARD OF OZ is available with a Dolby Digital 5.1 with channel soundtrack. Of course, there is only so much that can be done with the reduced fidelity of the original 1939 recordings. Sure, the music and songs were originally recorded in three channels, which sounds very nice across the forward soundstage. However, don't expect much beyond ambient fill in the surround channels, plus the bottom end of the track is very shallow compared to modern soundtracks. Still, the new soundtrack is relatively pleasing for home viewing. Personally, I wish the original monaural soundtrack was available on this DVD for comparison- no, it isn't and don't believe everything you read on the DVD packaging. A French monaural soundtrack has been encoded onto the DVD, as have English and French subtitles.
The interactive menus have been beautifully designed and utilize animation, sound, music and full motion video. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the disc's extensive extras. Supplements include The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz; a recent 50-minute making of documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury. Also present are five theatrical trailers, outtakes, recreations of deleted sequences, sketches, storyboards, numerous stills, home movies, excerpts from other versions of OZ, interviews, newsreel footage and clips from the 1939 Academy Awards. Additionally, the DVD includes a treasure trove of alternate sound programs from the original recording sessions for the film.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is a classic that belongs in every DVD collection. Warner Home Video has amazing job with the DVD, creating a beautiful disc that offers tremendous value and wonderful supplements. Absolutely recommended.
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