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Blu-ray Review: The Wizard of Oz – 70th Anniversary – Ultimate Collector’s Edition (1939)

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One way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz is the Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray. This adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the all-time classics in the history of cinema, and will win you a bet against naysayers who confidently claim there’s never been a remake as good as the original film.

Shot in sepia-toned black and white, young Kansan Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) lives on a farm with her aunt and uncle, dreaming of a chance to break away, as the song goes, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” During a tornado, she receives a bump on the head and then finds herself, her dog Toto, and her house, which landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, in the magical Land of Oz, vividly brought to life by Technicolor. Dorothy wants to return home and is told by Glinda the Good Witch of the North she must seek out the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City for assistance. Trying to foil her plans is the Wicked Witch of the West who wants the magical ruby slippers Dorothy now wears.

Joining Dorothy on the yellow brick road to see the Wizard are the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion because they too have needs the Wizard may be able to help with; respectively they are a brain, a heart, and courage. The Wizard offers a deal: if they recover the Wicked Witch’s broom, he will fulfill their wishes. At the end of their mission, the Oz trio discovers they each had what they felt they lacked inside them the whole time, and Dorothy learns she holds the key to fulfilling her own desires, a slightly subversive yet subtle message for children.

The film has likely never looked this good since the first prints were struck from the original negatives. Although a remaster was created for the 2005 DVD, the studio went back in again to make an exquisite-looking product for this new release. After the original Technicolor negatives were scanned at 8K resolution (the current standard is 2K), Oz became the first Blu-ray to use a 4K capture master, creating twice the resolution of the previous release.

The sepia-toned bookends of the real world look like old photographs. The colors of Oz are quite stunning: the greens of Emerald City, the red hues of the poppy fields and the ruby slippers, and the entire spectrum of the rainbow in Munchkinland are all particular standouts. There is an amazing amount of detail I never noticed before, and I felt as if I was seeing the film for the first time. I hadn’t noticed the burlap-sack textures of Scarecrow’s face, the rust on Tin Man’s body, or the actual brickwork of the Yellow Brick Road before. Kansas offered similar clarity.

The high definition does make the background paintings more evident, but typical Blu-ray flaws are near non-existent. Dorothy’s blue-and-white-checkered dress avoids aliasing. Any softness in shots comes from the source, and there was a limited depth of field so objects easily lose their delineation.

The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and the disc offers the option of the original mono and a music-and-effects track. It’s not an immersive experience, but the sound design from the 1930s wasn’t intended to be. Still, there’s a great use of surround as the tornado roars through the system and when the flying monkeys attack. The subwoofer gives a nice booming boost to the Wizard. The songs and dialogue are well balanced in the mix.

The UCE presents over 16 hours of special features. Although all are standard definition, there is over three hours of new material. The set also offers collectibles like a replica of the movie’s budget, a 52-page commemorative booklet, a reproduction of the 1939 Oz campaign book, and a watch.

Disc 1

Hosted by director Sydney Pollack, the audio commentary presents historian John Fricke complemented by archival interviews with cast members covering many aspects of the film's creation.

Angela Lansbury is involved with three features. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic" (51 minutes) is a 1990 documentary she hosted. She also narrates "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook" (11 minutes), an abbreviated version of the book accompanied by pictures, and "We Haven't Really Met Properly…" (21 minutes), a series of short bios about nine of the cast members. Surprisingly, Garland isn’t included.

"Memories of Oz" (28 minutes) is yet another look from crew and family members from 2001. From 2005 there is "The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz" (30 minutes), a look at the work that went into the film’s creation; "Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz" (25 minutes) examines the film’s enduring impact on our culture; and "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz" (11 minutes) recounts the work done for the 2005 DVD release.

Three Vintage Shorts presents very rare material. "Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power" (11 minutes) reveals Garland in a blonde wig for the character. In "Cavalcade of the Academy Awards" Excerpt (2 minutes), Mickey Rooney awards Garland a miniature Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance. "Texas Contest Winners" (90 seconds) meet up with – Bolger, Lahr, Buddy Ebsen, who was to play the Tin Man until his reaction to the make-up caused him to leave the role.

"Sing-Along with the Movie" is a karaoke feature for those who don’t know the lyrics. "Off to See the Wizard" Excerpts (4 minutes) are promos for the 1967 ABC TV season. "It's a Twister! It's a Twister! The Tornado Tests" (8 minutes) reveals preliminary tests of the effect. Visits to the Oz set are captured in film composer’s "Harold Arlen's Home Movies" (5 minutes). There’s more than the typical Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (14 minutes) as fans can see a longer version of the “If I Only Had a Brain” sequence and hear Ebsen’s “'If I Only Had a Heart.” There’s a lot to look at in 18 Stills Galleries and seven Theatrical Trailers (11 minutes)

There are also audio-only features. Jukebox (70 minutes) presents a collection of songs including rehearsals, voice tests, and even deleted numbers. "Leo Is On the Air" Radio Promo (12 minutes) is basically a commercial for the film as is "Good News of 1939" Radio Show (61 minutes) with Garland, Bolger, and Lahr. "12/25/50 Lux Radio Theater" Broadcast (61 minutes) – is a radio adaptation of Oz with Garland

Disc 2

A number of people responsible for the success of Oz are the subject of special features. "Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman" (34 minutes) is a new documentary about the overlooked director who will surely impress those who didn’t know he made Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year. Author L. Frank Baum is profiled in the non-fiction "L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain" (28 minutes) and the 1990 made-for-TV movie “The Dreamer of Oz' (92 minutes) where Baum is played by John Ritter. The actors who played the Munchkins get their time in the spotlight with “Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars" (10 minutes).

There’s a treasure trove for Oz and silent film buffs with the inclusion of earlier Oz films: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) (13 minutes); His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914) (59 minutes), written and directed by Baum; The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914) (38 minutes); The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) (51 minutes) is available in an Oz set for the first time; The Wizard of Oz (1925) (72 minutes) with Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man; and an animated Technicolor cartoon, The Wizard of Oz (1933) (8 minutes).

The set winds up with a digital copy of the film and a double-sided DVD containing the six-hour documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars about the studio’s history hosted by Patrick Stewart.

The "Ultimate Collector’s Edition" surely lives up to its name. The only imaginable item missing is an audio track featuring Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon starting at the third roar by the MGM lion. While it’s understandable if there’s more to the set than required by most viewers, the Blu-ray alone is an absolute must-have. Not only the best of the year, but possibly the best of the format. The Wizard of Oz (70th Anniversary) should come standard with future Blu-ray players.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Greg Barbrick

    Wow, sounds exhaustive. The Pink Floyd comment was pretty good. The silent films are something I have always been curious about, as I have yet to see them. A lot of the others I have. Great review, the details of the scarecrow’s face etc. you describe sound worth it alone.

  • http://nickleshi.blogspot.com Nick

    Beautiful edition and great review.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    It’s great to see the classics get treated with the right amount of respect when they get transferred to a new medium. Great review!

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    The first time I saw it on TV as a young kid, I remember cowering under the blankets next to my mom every time the wicked witch appeared on screen.

    To this day my sister still collects crystal balls because of the scene where Dorothy sees Aunti Em in the witch’s huge one.

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    This makes me wish they’d release “Under the Rainbow” a hilarious movie about what happens with the midgets in their hotel during the filming and how they almost wreck the set of “Gone With the Wind”

  • http://cherylcassidy.com cheryl cassidy

    One of the best movies ever made! I love everything about it. Glad to see it doing well!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    thanks, guys, glad to see the work paid off.

    Greg, not surprised you liked the PF line. The shorter silents are the best. The longer ones tend to go off on some pretty odd tangents.

    Jet, with Warners new Archive program, I am sure Under The Rainbow will be available sooner than you think

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/christine-lakatos/ Christine

    I love “The Wizard of Oz”, thanks for this info, El Bicho. I will have to check it out.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    you won’t be disappointed, Christine

  • Jeff

    Perhaps naïve question – this sounds gorgeous, and I understand there’s way more material than could fit on an economical number of DVD discs, but…. is the resolution really outside the DVD envelope? Or was the decision to release on BD simply because it IS the *Ultimate* Collectors’ Edition?

  • Suzy

    This is my favorite movie of all time, and you have no idea how excited I am to buy it on blue-ray!!
    Also, I think you guys might appreciate a Vanity Fair article that I just found. It features stills from “The Wizard of Oz” and other classic movies. If the link below doesn’t work, go to Vanity Fair’s website and search “The Wizard of Oz,” and the article should be first on the list of results. The article is dated 1/29/10. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!