The Wizard Of Oz Blu-ray Review
'The Wizard of Oz' travels well and arrives on Blu-ray with a beautiful 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that's framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The film was remastered back in 2005 for a DVD release, but rather than simply use that master for the Blu-ray release, Warners went back and scanned the original Technicolor negatives at 8k resolution to allow a 4k capture master to be created for the Blu-ray. This gave us double the resolution of the 2005 master, significantly improving the clarity of the image yet at the same time preserving the look of the original.
It's nice to report that the image is very crisp with vibrant colour and still retains a filmic look through the preservation of the movie's texture and grain structure. Thankfully, Warner haven't tried to smooth out this intrinsic part of 'Oz' with any of their own digital magic. What we actually get is a clean, wonderfully sharp image with superb colour that faithfully reproduces a fine example of the three strip Technicolor process. What I'm trying to get across is the fact that they haven't tried to make it look like a brand new movie - as that would have been wrong. So there is the very odd mark on the otherwise pristine print to remind us that this is a 70 year old movie. The grain, while noticeable, is never intrusive. It lends the film a texture that is of its time and helps make the stunning, colourful sets look more natural - if that's possible.
The opening and closing sepia sequences posed a problem as no example of the tinted footage remained. Instead Warner had to colourise a black and white print in the style of sepia from the period using other movies as reference material. The transfer now has incredible richness and depth. The sepia tones project the dusty atmosphere of the Kansas farm much better than black-and-white ever could. Despite the taming you'd expect of contrast caused by the tinting, we get amazing detail in these sequences.
When the door is opened to the Technicolor land of Oz, the colour hits you right between the eyes. While the greater saturation brings out all the vibrant hues in the Munchkinland sequence, the colours are held in check and bleeding is never a problem. The Yellow Brick Road is most definitely that and Dorothy's ruby slippers are rich and sparkly while the wicked witch's green face almost glows. A test of the colour accuracy is the 'horse of a different colour' sequence where our four legged friend goes through the primaries effectively. Blacks are dark as a witch's hat, skin tones look stable and natural (for Technicolor) and heightened clarity makes the sets take on a 3D quality as the camera moves behind trees. I hadn't really noticed the freckles on Judy's face before and you could almost count the individual bricks in the Yellow Brick Road.
The close-ups of Judy Garland's face project her youthful beauty- many shot using a soft focus filter as was the style in those days.
The High Def transfer also picks out the odd mark or join in the background cycloramas but overall there is a greater feeling of depth.
I couldn't spot any detrimental digital effects of oversharpening like ringing or any obvious use of DNR. It really looks like you're watching a brand new 35mm print of a film shot in early Technicolor in your own home.
The main soundtrack on 'Oz' comes in a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 flavour, although the original mono and a music-and-effects track can be accessed via the Special Features menu. There's a Dolby Digital 5.1 track promised on the box, but I couldn't find it.
Although purists may plump for the original, I felt that the TrueHD track offered quite a satisfying experience - although, naturally, there's no way in this world that it sounds like a modern mix. But who would want that?
Most of the audio is front centre locked, although gentle surround effects are noticeable mainly during musical numbers but the chirping baby chicks on Uncle Henry's farm and Dorothy's shrieks when she's carried away by the flying monkeys, are crisp and discrete. My subwoofer came alive when Dorothy's house touched down in Oz with a real bass thump. The loud twister sequence makes good use of the surrounds and bass extension while, later on, the wizard's amplified voice has a wonderful hall like echo.
The musical numbers sound full bodied, with excellent fidelity and depth.
Dialogue is clear, crisp and intelligible throughout.
The track has gone through a decent scrubbing process as there was no real snap or crackle but just the occasional pop. There's only the tiniest bit of hiss in some of the quieter moments but you'd really need the hearing of a cat to notice it. For a 70 year old film, it sounds just great.
As this is the Ultimate Collectors Edition, it comes with wheelbarrow loads of extra material. Not only that, each of the collector's editions is individually numbered and housed in a rather chunky presentation box that reminds me of a box-file in size. On opening the lid, you find a 52-page hardback book, 'Behind the Curtain of Production 1060', by film historian John Fricke. Beautifully illustrated with rare colour and B/W pics, it also features cast bios, studio memos, accounts sheets, and pages from the script. Then, there's a reprint of the movie's original budget cost estimate sheet as well as a reproduction of the original 1939 campaign book, which features a wealth of promotional material for cinema managers of the time - including press ads, press releases, competition ideas, and poster samples. Beneath that is a 70th Anniversary commemorative wristwatch (with genuine crystals!), housed in a nicely designed tin. If only it didn't say 'Made in China' on the back. The real prize is the Blu-ray set in its gloss silver finished foldout three-disc digipak with embossed slipcase. There's also a digital copy disc hiding in the bottom of the box along with other superfluous sales material. I've included a pic of the set in the photos tab section of this review, so you can see what it looks like. For those who don't want to fork out $84.99 there will be single or 2 disc editions at lesser cost but without all the material mentioned above.
Now, as for the extras - takes deep breath - I'm going in, chaps!
- Audio Commentary
The late Sydney Pollack hosts and links this stonking commentary featuring reminiscences, production details and stories from a gaggle of 'Oz' cast members and experts, including Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, the children of Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, producer Mervyn LeRoy, Munchkin Jerry Maren and historian John Fricke. We even hear from Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man, who had to leave after developing a life-threatening allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in the character's makeup). John Fricke divulges a wealth of information about casting, script changes, set design and special effects - adding to the personal memories of the other contributors. It's a real pleasure to hear this well edited track.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic (SD, 51 minutes)
Angela Lansbury (a former MGM contract player herself) hosts this well made 1990 documentary produced by Jack Haley Jr (son of Tin Man), that I remember from the Laserdisc release. It covers the film's production period and includes details of On-set accidents, including one where Margaret Hamilton was burnt. We discover the Special Effects secrets, hear about studio manipulations, the naughty Munchkins, the work on the score and we get to see some deleted scenes. After seeing the new transfer of the movie, some of this looks a bit ropey.
- The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz (SD, 30 minutes)
This interesting featurette from 2005 looks at the technical and creative aspects that make 'The Wizard of Oz' such a beloved classic. There are sections on song writing, scoring, production design, costuming, makeup, special effects, and even the Technicolor process itself intercut with input from people like director Peter Jackson, entertainer Michael Feinstein, and actor Sean Astin.
- Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz (SD, 25 minutes)
This entertaining 2005 featurette looks at the way 'The Wizard of Oz' has become part of modern day culture - growing and developing interest thanks to television screenings, as well as animated productions and stage shows. We get a look at the auction of the ruby slippers as well as several 'Oz' conventions and festivals.
- Memories of Oz (SD, 28 minutes)
In this 2001 doco, produced by Turner Classic Movies, the Munchkins are the main focus providing legendary tales of on set shenanigans through personal reminiscences. The film then moves on to take a look at film's special effects, set and costume design, before rounding off with investigating the lasting appeal of Judy Garland.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook (SD, 10 minutes)
Angela Lansbury narrates the 'Oz' tale with visuals supplied as limited animation of the kind we got used to in Britain thanks to 'Jackanory'. It would be interesting to see if it has the appeal to hold the attention of modern day kids.
- Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz (SD, 11 minutes)
Don't get your hopes up. This isn't actually about the restoration done for the Blu-ray release. It covers the earlier restoration work for the movie's 2005 DVD release. All the same, it's still a fascinating to see the Ultra-Resolution process as Warner technicians take us through the meticulous, often tedious paces step by step. I just love seeing scratches and dirt disappear with the click of a mouse. We also get to see some audio remastering and can compare before and after versions of the 5.1 track as well.
- We Haven't Really Met Properly (SD, 21 minutes)
This is actually a nice collection of nine mini bios, narrated by Angela Lansbury, about the 'Oz' cast members including clips from other films in which they appeared, as well as some teasing titbits. Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, and even the magnificent Toto are covered - although Judy Garland is missing. Mind you, how could you cover her career in two minutes?
- Jukebox (70 minutes)
Your chance to hear the alternate takes and false starts of the recording of 'Over the Rainbow'. It's interesting to hear Judy Garland experiment with a faster tempo - gasp!. There are also several rehearsal recordings, some voice tests, deleted songs, and underscoring. This is the kind of thing the movie buffs live for!
- Leo Is On the Air - Radio Promo (12 minutes)
A real blast from the past, this episode from MGM's weekly promotional radio show boosts 'The Wizard of Oz' and includes excerpts from the film's score, as well as a tasty dollop of studio gossip.
- Good News of 1939 - Radio Show (61 minutes)
Robert Young is the radio host on this hour-long 'Oz' special, broadcast before the film's premiere. Garland, Bolger, and Lahr appear on the MGM-sponsored program, along with composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y Harburg. Judy performs 'Over the Rainbow' for the listeners.
- 25/12/50 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast (61 minutes)
Can you believe they did 'Oz' on the radio? It was broadcast on Christmas Day, 1950 with Judy Garland (28 by then) reprising her role as Dorothy - after she'd left MGM. The voice may have changed slightly but her sincerity and talent still shine in this atmospheric piece of radio history. It's a good, fun listen but not a patch on the movie.
- Sing-Along with the Movie
Aw c'mon! Like you don't know what this is. It's the karaoke special to annoy the neighbours with. Give it a bit of level and even your Aunty might sound like Judy. The lyrics appear whenever a song begins in this option but you can get quicker access to particular songs by use of the menu list.
- Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power (SD, 11 minutes)
This short film would have been used to accustom the audience to the brightness of the picture and the sound quality before the main feature. It explains how a film studio harnesses electrical power from the Hoover Dam and uses it for film production. We see a short clip from an early rehearsal of 'Oz,' with Judy Garland in a blonde wig (which was changed by the director) The short indicates the vast amount of power required for a Technicolor motion picture.
- Cavalcade of the Academy Awards - Excerpt (SD, 2 minutes)
A dapper Mickey Rooney presents Judy Garland with a miniature Oscar for the year's Best Juvenile Performance at the 1939 Academy Awards.
- Texas Contest Winners (SD, 90 seconds)
Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and the original Tin Man Buddy Ebsen surprise a group of Texans - winners of an exclusive MGM studio tour - outside the 'Oz' rehearsal hall. This may be the only surviving footage of Ebsen with his 'Oz' co-stars before he was forced to leave the production due to a severe allergic reaction to aluminium powder in the Tin Man's makeup.
- Off to See the Wizard - Excerpts (SD, 4 minutes)
Here we have some clips of animated 'Oz' characters that were used to introduce family films during this 1967 ABC TV series. Interesting but charmless.
- Stills Galleries
Here we have 18 stills galleries (count 'em) which include a stack of photos, promotional material, sketches, and storyboards that begin with pre-production and carry on all the way through production stages to the film's premiere, and various re-releases thereafter.
- Theatrical Trailers (SD, 11 minutes)
Nice to see a total of 7 trailers from 1938 through to 1998. Although styles may change the movie is still the same success.
- Harold Arlen's Home Movies (SD, 5 minutes)
A selection of clips from Arlen's 16mm home movies shot during portrait sittings and various visits to the 'Oz' set. The best ones are used in the next topic area.
- Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (SD, 14 minutes)
Here we can see the original, full-length version of 'If I Only Had a Brain,' which features a creative dance sequence by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow - although sadly it was considered too long. You can see the flying harness wires too. Other material includes Buddy Ebsen's version of 'If I Only Had a Heart' (audio only), a reprise of 'Over the Rainbow' by Judy Garland - originally intended for the witch's castle sequence, and a recording of 'The Jitterbug' set to stills and home movie footage shot by Harold Arlen during the number's production. You can see the people inside the trees operating them.
- It's a Twister! It's a Twister! The Tornado Tests (SD, 8 minutes)
Some fascinating Special Effects test footage of the tornado that takes Dorothy to the land of Oz. Real fork and knife stuff compared to today's CGI , but it works.
There's a link to Warner's online site for those with players connected to the Net, but sadly there's no additional 'Oz' content on it. Really useful dot com.
- Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman (SD, 34 minutes)
In this new documentary we get up close and personal with the man who directed both 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Gone with the Wind'. Throughout his career he was always seen as a safe pair of hands who was often pulled in by MGM to put right what they felt other directors had done wrong. Here, he is given credit for instigating the use of slow motion photography as well as having more than a minor role in developing the genres of screwball comedy and the buddy movie. We're treated to a host of clips from his other movies including 'Red Dust,' 'Captains Courageous,' 'Test Pilot', and 'A Guy Named Joe' .
It's good to learn more about this talented director.
- L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain (SD, 28 minutes)
This biographical documentary examines the life of the man who wrote the 'Oz' books. We hear about his privileged upbringing, his career before he was a writer, his financial problems and above all his lasting legacy that was the basis of the movie that millions have seen and now love.
- Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars (SD, 10 minutes)
Yes folks, it's those Munchkins again who entertainingly recall their 'Oz' experiences during the making of the movie. This short (sorry) also features the efforts to get them immortalised with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. It has a happy ending as we get to see the cheerful unveiling ceremony.
- The Dreamer of Oz (SD, 92 minutes)
This is a disappointing, sugary sweet, made for TV movie starring the late John Ritter as L. Frank Baum that would have benefited greatly by being left off the disc. It's really corny and looks low budget so it only serves to cheapen the memories of 'Oz'. It's a real shame as the concept is good, but the execution lets it down. Annette O'Toole and Rue McClanahan put their careers at risk by appearing in it. The film also looks so fuzzy that it's hard to watch. I suppose it's only here for completeness.
- Previous 'Oz' Films
Here we have a collection of six Oz films, made before the 1939 classic. Five of the films were made during the silent movie era, with only one having the benefit of sound. 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' (1910) (SD, 13 minutes) is the earliest incarnation. 'His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz' (1914) (SD, 59 minutes), which was written and directed by Baum himself, comes next. 'The Magic Cloak of Oz' (1914) (SD, 38 minutes) follows and 'The Patchwork Girl of Oz' (1914) (SD, 51 minutes) ends the first phase of 'Oz' films. Eleven years passed before the next 'Oz' attempt, 1925's 'The Wizard of Oz' (SD, 72 minutes), the most well known (and possibly best) silent adaptation, starring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. This version has been restored with sepia tones during the Kansas sequences and purple tints for the land to Oz. A new score by Robert Israel has also been added. The final offering in the set is Ted Eshbaugh's 1933 Technicolor cartoon, 'The Wizard of Oz' (SD, 8 minutes), which takes poetic licence with the original story, but preserves the fun element. A nice collection of curios for the case hardened 'Oz' fan.
- MGM: When the Lion Roars (SD, 6 hours)
This mammoth documentary, hosted and linked by Patrick Stewart, is something that most serious film buffs would give their rewinding arm for. It must be the most comprehensive studio documentary ever produced as it chronicles the rise and fall of the MGM studio. It's presented on a double-sided DVD and, although not in High Def, still looks great. It's an absorbing story of corporate intrigue, scandal, and tragic deaths. We're treated to clips from MGM's library of lavishly produced movies as well as interviews (from different sources) of some big names in the film business. It serves to highlight the studio's contribution to the Cinema as we know it today. This is a truly excellent documentary and as it's exclusive to the Blu-ray set, it almost justifies the extra money. A worthwhile spend.
- Digital Copy
The almost obligatory digital copy of 'The Wizard of Oz,' which can be transferred to portable media using iTunes or Windows Media Player - and for those who'd rather watch it on a PC or Mac.
That all time classic movie musical fantasy 'The Wizard of Oz' comes to Blu-ray with an excellent Region free 1080p VC-1 transfer that's framed in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The colours are vibrant in a way that only three strip Technicolor can deliver. Contrast is spot on while blacks are inky and throughout there's a fine veil of grain that has not been spoilt by the restoration. In places the image has real depth, almost like 3D.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track has been cleaned to remove unwanted snap, crackle and pop, so we get clean dialogue in this mostly front weighted mix although the surrounds are tastefully integrated at various points and the subwoofer gets the occasional nudge. It sounds very good indeed.
There are more extras in this Ultimate Collectors box set than you could shake a Witch's broomstick at - as well as some reprints of period publicity material, a lavishly presented hard back book - oh, and don't forget the wristwatch with REAL crystals.
This package should be on every movie buff's Christmas list, or at least at the end of every rainbow. Forget the pot of gold, go see the Wizard.
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- Audio Commentary