Expectations can be a powerful thing when it comes to movies. And in the case of Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful — a Wizard of Oz prequel — they probably couldn’t get any higher considering the original classic is one year shy of its 75th anniversary. While the new film may not be as great or powerful upon first viewing, it definitely grows on you with repeat viewings. Watching the special features of the Blu-ray release also made me appreciate more of what Raimi did manage to bring to theaters and now to own on June 11. My full review of the film can be found here.
When it comes to a film’s picture quality, would you expect anything less than stellar from a Disney release? Oz the Great and Powerful certainly lives up to its title when it comes to its 2.40: 1 aspect ratio, MPEG-4 AVC encode. While I may not have had the opportunity to review the 3D disc, the 2D shines through and through. The only issue may be that with the film being actually lensed in 3D instead of converted, some of the special effects and cinematography comes off as hokey. You really start to see where some of the seams were in post-production, but thankfully, Raimi uses enough sets to keep it under control.
The cheesiest scene is hands down when Oz (James Franco), Glinda (Michelle Williams), Finley (Zach Braff), and China Girl (Joey King) are flying around in bubbles. Additionally, the entire opening sequence is rendered lifeless now too. In the original 3D presentation, a fire eater blows from within the 1.33:1 framing out into the black area. Here it simply gets cut off within the frame. However, Disney spares no expense on every new release and there’s no crush, banding, aliasing, or noise to speak of. I can only imagine how much better the 3D release looks, only because it’s supposed to be in 3D.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also a thing of beauty. You don’t notice how flat the soundscape really is in the opening scene until the roaring twister sweeps Franco away. LFE (particularly in the big witch-off finale) and directionality rule the day, sucking you right into the mystical Land of Oz with excellent dialogue reproduction and directionality pin-point accurate. Oddly, the only scene that doesn’t sound as good as it should involves a swarm of butterflies while Oz is floating down the river in his deflated hot air balloon. Aside from that, the audio track is as transporting as it should be; especially when it comes time to sweep us along the ride with our characters.
As for special features, Oz the Great and Powerful may not have an onslaught — a Raimi and Franco audio commentary certainly would have been hilarious to listen to — but they definitely serve their purpose in making one appreciate the film even more. The best feature, “China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief,” is the shortest. Here we learn that Oz’s porcelain heroine was brought to life on set by way of marionette with actress Joey King providing on set voice acting while Phillip Huber brings her to life. A brief collection of “Bloopers” provides some fun showing us the behind-the-scenes antics and “Mila’s Metamorphosis” lets us see what it’s like to be transformed into a wicked witch. The longest feature is “My Journey in Oz,” a pseudo-documentary directed by James Franco himself providing more on set footage and interviews with Raimi and his co-stars.
The most interesting bonus item is “Walt Disney and the Road to Oz” where we learn of just how long the Mouse House has been trying to adapt Frank L. Baum’s series, dating all the way back to before the release of Snow White when Samuel Goldwyn snatched up the rights for MGM due to Snow White’s success. It also offers footage from Walt Disney’s Rainbow Road to Oz production for his Mickey Mouse Club actors. I saved this feature for my wife to watch and after seeing the footage she commented on how terrible it was right before it mentioned how Walt felt the same way and shut down production. “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz” is even more production footage showing us the creation of sets, costumes, and locations. There’s the requisite Second Screen Experience “The Magic of Oz the Great and Powerful” and finally, “Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions” rounds everything off discussing his enthusiasm for the project.
Oz the Great and Powerful may have its share of detractors with its theatrical release, but it should be given a second chance on Blu-ray. Trying to compare it to the original classic is certainly unfair. But featuring stellar audio and video, with a nice bounty of extras, another demo-worthy disc comes out of the Mouse House and into your living room where it can be granted a new life, just like Oz himself.
Cover art and photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures