The Wizard of Oz, which debuted in movie theaters in 1939, is 70 years young this year, and the film looks better than ever. Available on Blu-ray and DVD, a four-disc 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition brings the beloved classic to fans of all ages in a re-mastered version with six times higher resolution than standard DVD, with superior Dolby TruHD sound, and with 16 hours of bonus features including four hours of material that has never been seen before.
Warner Bros. celebrated the landmark occasion with an Emerald Gala at New York landmark Tavern on the Green last week, a truly magical night befitting a movie that has delighted generations of viewers and continues to attract new devoted fans with each new medium in which it is released. From the silver screen to television broadcasts, to videotape, DVD, and now Blu-ray, audiences continue to discover the charm of The Wizard of Oz. Jerry Maren, who played a Lollipop Guild member and was one of the surviving original Munchkins who attended the gala, said during a round-table interview on Thursday, “It feels like every time you see it, you see something new.”
Even people who have seen The Wizard of Oz countless times during their lives will be thrilled to see the new release and they will find new tidbits never seen before. Included is a 52-page book by Oz historian John Fricke with previously unpublished artwork that is part of the limited edition Ultimate Collector’s package, such as a press book for Oz from 1939, one of the most lavish ever created by a Hollywood studio. Mr. Fricke raved, “I don’t have to manufacture the enthusiasm when I talk about Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz … I think The Wizard of Oz as a film typifies the very best of musical comedy entertainment … [Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale] draws the audience right into the action from that very first moment — her vulnerability, her sincerity, and her worry about that dog, and then the need to run away from home, and then the idea of her being lost and having to get back home. Every kid goes on that journey instantly with her.”
On a night when the Empire State Building was lit green in honor of the event, guests at the Emerald Gala on September 24 certainly all felt like children again. The famous Tavern on the Green for one night became a fairy tale world where everyone could let their imaginations escape for a few hours with old friends from that Technicolor masterpiece. A seven-story hot air balloon, emblazoned with the images of those legendary characters, heralded the event for all to see as they approached along Central Park West in New York City. A purple Horse of a Different Color drew a carriage in front of the entrance, where guests of honor walked not along a red carpet to the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi, but along a more fitting replica of the Yellow Brick Road.
Inside, the already elegant restaurant was a marvelous wonderland of Oz memorabilia and amazing delights around every corner. There was a gallery of fine art inspired by the movie from artists such as Angelo Aversa, Romero Britto, Nelson de la Nuez, Phillip Graffham, Gris Grimly, Glen Orbik, William Joyce, Marcus Antonius Jansen, and others, including my favorites by Alex Ross and Todd White.
An online charity auction of the Ruby Slipper Collection benefited the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, with modern ruby slipper designs by Oscar de la Renta, Moschino, Diane von Furstenberg, L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani, Jimmy Choo, and many others.
Jennifer "Oz" LeRoy, granddaughter of producer Mervyn LeRoy and owner of Tavern on the Green, looked even more beautiful than usual (if that were possible) in a dazzling green dress, waving to onlookers as she took a test ride of the hot air balloon. “If any restaurant could be transformed into Oz, it would be Tavern on the Green,” she said earlier that day. “It’s going to be singing and dancing, good food and champagne and Munchkins! It’s going to be a real celebration of The Wizard of Oz. I’m so honored. Of all the events that we’ve done, it’s sort of cosmic that this is happening at this time. It’s going to be, I’m sure, emotional for me and my family just because of my grandfather and the lineage and all that. I think it’s going to be a once in a lifetime event. I’m really excited about it.”
The gala certainly lived up to the hype. Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and actress Ashanti, fresh from her theatrical debut as Dorothy in the City Center Encores! production of The Wiz, sang a lovely rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Judy Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, sang a medley of tunes from the film. Earlier, Ms. Luft commented on the longevity of Oz: “The reason the movie is as good as it is, and will always be so, is the message, because it’s about home, it’s about heart, it’s about courage, and it’s about knowledge. What else is there?”
Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Harry Warner and author of The Brothers Warner, added to that sentiment: “I think it’s a timeless piece. It’s got values and meaning and goodies that I just love in entertainment. It’s for everybody. It’s all about good storytelling and may it live forever!”
The new DVD and Blu-ray will continue to provide entertainment and new discoveries to viewers for years to come. As Ned Price, VP of Mastering at Warner Bros., explained, “[On Blu-ray with high definition] it looks very good and better than you’ve ever seen, but there is more on that disc than you can see on your consumer monitors at home. The weakest link in the chain for the consumer is the monitor devices that they have at home … I see in the next few years that will greatly improve and you’ll still be able to enjoy the disc more and more, and you’ll be able to see more of what’s there.”
All of us who have loved The Wizard of Oz over the years, and continue to love it more and more every time we view it, echo the words of Jerry Maren: “It appeals to all, especially children … It’s more than we ever thought it was going to be. It’s part of Americana … one of the finest moments in motion picture history.”