Written by Musgo del Jefe
It's intimidating to sit down to write a review of The Wizard Of Oz. I put it right up there with reviewing The Beatles or Huck Finn. What do you say that hasn't already been said? How do you find an angle on something in its seventh decade? For full disclosure, I have to admit that this movie has been in my Top 5 films ever since I was probably five- or six-years-old. Movies have come and gone and this film has never wavered. When we got a VCR, it was the first film I taped off of TV and watched and rewatched. When it was released on VHS, I had the deluxe edition. And back again for another version for the 50th Anniversary. In 1999, I was put my money down for a bare bones DVD version for the 60th Anniversary. Just back in 2005, I purchased the three-disc Collector's Edition on DVD. Now, Warner Bros. has gone into full Oz-mode again for the 70th Anniversary of the film.
First, the film. This is not the film that I watched year after year on CBS in my youth. The print is vibrant and living. If you haven't seen the film in years or only on television, then you haven't seen this film. There isn't a better Technicolor film out there. Simply put, this film uses color as a character. The Sepia portion of the film is so well shot and the story is so captivating, that you are lulled to sleep almost by the soft browns and whites. Once the film turns to Technicolor, the primary colors warm over all your senses. The brilliance of the Yellow Brick Road, the poppies and the Emerald City are just a few of the colors that strike you upon viewing this restored feature.
Does the story of Dorothy Gale from Kansas still stand up today? After 70 years, it's a fair question. The movie unfolds at a relatively slow pace compared to many films of today. There are plenty of songs and plot development before you ever see your first Munchkin or dead witch. But the plot never talks down to the viewer. The story of a young, misunderstood girl looking for an escape from her everyday life is one that still plays well today. I always found that the distinct beats in the story were almost planned to play on television, although the movie was made almost 20 years before it would become an annual fixture on TV. Every 15-20 minutes, there's a natural breathing point, whether when a tornado hits the house or after meeting a new character. There's an ebb and flow to the story that many screenwriters could take a clue from today. Think of the juxtaposition of the relief of finding Emerald City and the surprise tension of the witch spelling out "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky above the city. There's still plenty to enjoy about this film today.
The basic two-disc release for the 70th Anniversary is notable really only because it is the first version available on Blu-Ray. Other than that, I'm more fond of the 2005 release with its Wicked Witch Of The West packaging. There really isn't a significant difference between the two versions. The extras that have been collected around this film range from specials that appeal to even the most casual fan like "Memories Of Oz" to ones like "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz" for those that are concerned that a stereo track isn't being faithful to the original mono soundtrack (my favorite trivia of that special – it took 91 hours to restore the first 10 minutes of the film).
There is a four-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition that is probably more to my speed and contains new material for the uber-fans. The Ultimate edition contains a documentary on the overlooked director, Victor Fleming, a special on the surviving Munchkins, a great AMC special MGM: When The Lion Roars, and even a made-for-TV film, The Dreamer Of Oz about the author L. Frank Baum. As I collect more editions of the Disney animated films, The Planet Of The Apes series, the Universal Monster films and the original Star Wars trilogy, the extras become more important to me. I appreciate that Warner Bros. hasn't really left anything from previous editions out of this collection. But I'm not sure that it feels like they've added anything significant for this anniversary release.
Feeling overwhelmed by hours and hours of extras? Start with the commentary by John Fricke. He is a true Oz historian and I've been hearing his Wizard Of Oz commentaries since the first LaserDisc release of the film. His commentary contains a good combination of historical perspective with trivial tidbits and it's mixed with archival interviews with the film's cast and crew. The other fun extra is the 1990's documentary, "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making Of A Movie Classic". This is hosted by Angela Lansbury and provides a loving tribute to the film and plays even more to its cultural significance than the nuts and bolts of the commentary.
I am still paralyzed to write about this film. From the very first roar of the MGM lion, I'm a kid again when this film comes on. And it's not in the "I remember watching this when I was nine" type of way. It's the magic of The Wizard Of Oz that makes now feel like then. Only a handful of films can do that. This DVD release for the 70th Anniversary won't be the last. And it may not even be the best. But every household needs a copy of the film and maybe this one is yours. The Wizard Of Oz is the reason I keep coming back to films, the reason I'm raising my children to love film.
I think they couldn't have put it better than they do in the dedication of the film:
For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young In Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return . . . and to the Young In Heart we dedicate this picture.
If that is you. This is your film. And I'll meet you further down the Yellow Brick Road.