Forgive me for skipping the typical plot summary, but there's a good chance that anyone reading this has seen The Wizard of Oz (1939) dozens of times before. The young (and young-at-heart) have made this American classic one of cinema's gold standards: through its popular core characters, iconic soundtrack, committed performances, beautiful Technicolor visuals and top-tier special effects, Oz has got a little something for everyone. Like most folks, I first saw the film as a kid...and though Oz was never a regular staple in our house growing up, I've revisited it several times since then and appreciate it a little more with each viewing. Mind you, this is coming from someone who can count his favorite musicals on one hand...so if that's your favorite genre, Oz is probably right near the top of your all-time list.
The film's troubled production is entertaining in its own right. Based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, its script went through several revisions, no doubt due to earlier unsuccessful attempts to adapt Baum's material for the screen. Producer Mervin LeRoy was pressured to cast top child star Shirley Temple for the lead role of Dorothy until songwriter/producer Arthur Freed lobbied successfully for Judy Garland. Original "Tin Man" Buddy Ebsen almost died from the aluminum powder used in his makeup. Several directors were replaced, including George Cukor and Richard Thorpe, before Victor Fleming took over and handled the bulk of directing duties (interestingly enough, Fleming left before its completion to direct Gone With the Wind and King Vidor was brought in to direct a few scenes, including the iconic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sequence). Even after filming wrapped, Oz's original two-hour cut required trimming, but several of the proposed cuts (including "Rainbow") were left in at the creative team's insistence. Luckily, audiences were left with what's become one of America's most popular productions, as Oz has influenced a countless number of films during the past 75 years. For these reasons and many more, it doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon.
Not surprisingly, a film of this stature has enjoyed no shortage of home video releases. DVD Talk reviewed most of 'em, including the vintage SelectaVision VideoDisc, the 2000 DVD release, 2005's extensive three-disc Collector's Edition Set and, of course, 2009's landmark 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray. The Wizard of Oz's upcoming 75th Anniversary has spawned a well-received IMAX 3-D theatrical release and, naturally, it's been ported to Blu-ray for fans to enjoy at home. Both a non-3-D edition and another massive boxed set are also available, but this two-disc release splits the difference by offering both viewing options and a nice collection of old and new bonus features. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
This appears to be an identical presentation of the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray, utilizing a 2009 8K scan that captures almost every detail imaginable. Obviously the transition from 8K to 1080p will sacrifice many of these details...but within the limitations of current technology, Wizard of Oz fans won't find much to complain about. The mixture of sepia-toned footage and, of course, every ounce of eye-popping Technicolor makes each viewing a memorable experience, while digital imperfections are virtually absent every step of the way. A pleasing layer of natural film grain is also present, as well as strong shadow detail and striking textures. Overall, we won't see a better effort until 4K gets off the ground.
An optional 3-D Version of The Wizard of Oz is also included; though I don't have the full technical capability to enjoy this option at the present time, initial reviews of the revamped IMAX theatrical release were quite positive so I'm eager to check it out. It's also worth noting that unlike the 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray, both versions of the film have now been encoded using the more modern MPEG-4 MVC codec. Though it doesn't seem to have noticeably improved the video presentation (at least to my eyes), it's reassuring to know that little details like this were at least paid attention to.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
The new DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio default track replaces the 70th Anniversary Dolby TrueHD 5.1 offering, but the song remains the same. It's a tasteful remix that isn't loaded with canned surround effects and forced channel separation, just occasional hints of background ambiance and a fuller-sounding tornado experience. The classic soundtrack and score also benefit greatly from this more dynamic presentation. Purists will be glad to know that the original mono audio mix is included (albeit in lossy Dolby Digital), but it's buried on the bonus features menu. A wealth of optional subtitles is here, including separate tracks for English (SDH), French, Spanish (Castellan), Portuguese, Czech, Dutch and more.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Warner Bros.' typical interface is used; the sub-menus are cumbersome to navigate but at least everything's organized nicely. This two-disc release is housed in a silly eco-friendly keepcase and the disc is locked for Region "A" playback only. Also included are a matching lenticular slipsleeve, a promotional insert and an HD Digital Copy
Most of what's here has been available before, but those who are curious about the 3-D experience and aren't interested in the boxed set will get their money's worth. New for 2013 (and located on Disc Two) is "The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
(68 minutes), a newly-produced retrospective documentary featuring surviving cast members (or, in some cases, their relatives), fans of the film, crew members, former and current studio executives, behind-the-scenes photos, memorabilia and more. It's a fairly lightweight but ultimately entertaining look at author L. Frank Baum's original Oz
books, the film's troubled production, MGM's massive release campaign and, of course, its lasting impact, influence and legacy. There are
few little things here that rubbed me the wrong way, including a handful of puffed-up introductory statements and a tasteless excuse for the film's lukewarm international reception in the wake of WWII. Still, this documentary provides a good Oz
overview for those who haven't peeked too far behind the curtain already.
Everything else is ported from previous releases; these items are covered in more detail within the reviews linked above. Three of the recycled bonus features are included on both discs, including an informative Audio Commentary and two Mono Audio Tracks featuring the film's original one-channel mix and an option that isolates the music and effects.
Disc Two is home to a few more vintage extras, including an abridged reading of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" Storybook by Angela Lansbury (12 minutes, with moving illustrations), who also hosts a nice collection of Cast Biographies (22 minutes). The Sing-Along Mode and Audio Jukebox pay tribute to the film's memorable songs through subtitle-only options and a collection of assorted original recordings and outtakes. An extensive Stills Gallery also returns, featuring a wealth of production photos, sketches, makeup tests, premiere photos and much more. Finally, we get three Radio Broadcasts of Oz-related material, including a 1950 Christmas recording of the story (61 minutes), a 1939 cast interview (60 minutes) and an original advertisement for the film (12 minutes), as well as an extensive collection of Trailers. It's a nice, condensed collection of extras that should please all but the most die-hard fans.
You should know by now if you like The Wizard of Oz enough to pony up for yet another version of the film on home video, but this two-disc release seems like the most sensible option for the film's 75th anniversary: featuring two viewing options (including the recent 3-D version), a mildly tweaked A/V presentation and a nice assortment of old and new supplements, it's a compact but well-rounded release that fans of all ages will enjoy. Collectors will probably opt for the boxed set, but there's enough here to consider this a solid re-release on its own terms. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.