DVD/Blu-ray Review: The Wizard of Oz
This is a review of the 4-disc (5 technically) standard DVD boxed set edition of The Wizard of Oz – NOT the Blu-ray set. I’m not set up with HDTV or Blu-ray yet, and Warner Home Video was kind enough to send me this boxed set as a “Thank You” for helping to promote these new multiple DVD releases of the film. Thank you Warner! This UCE (Ultimate Collector’s Edition) is probably the last time we’ll see a standard DVD boxed set of OZ, as Blu-ray is fast replacing them. It’s a fitting finale for the film on DVD.
One quick note: I received the set just a day prior to the in-theaters-only HD screening, but did not have a chance to go through all of it and give my impressions of this set until now. A little late as the set comes out tomorrow, but better late than never! The following are my thoughts and comments and impressions.
First let me note that the set is wonderfully packaged. The design of the box, the placement of the extras, and the graphics are all fantastic. AGI Media (see image above) is the name of the company that designed these sets. They specialize in package design, and I certainly hope Warner Home Video uses them for upcoming UCEs such as the 2010 release of A Star is Born.
THE PRINT EXTRAS:
“Behind the Curtain of Production 1060” Book
Written by OZ expert John Fricke, this book is just right! At 52 pages and lavishly illustrated with many on-set photos never before published, printed on a high quality paper and hardbound, it provides a nice and quick overview of the making of the film. A perfectly realized printed complement to the documentaries provided on the discs. What I liked about it, aside from the on-set photos, is that it closes with a lovely tribute to the author who made it all possible, L. Frank Baum. It’s nice to see him get his due as many celebrations of the film ignore him!
Facsimile of Original Movie Budget Sheet
This is a fun, one page photo copy of the final tally sheet of of the film, with breakdowns of how much was spent in each department from estimates to final costs. A fascinating little peek into the costs of filmmaking during Hollywood’s Golden Age and the terminology that was used at the time.
1939 Campaign Book Reproduction
This reproduction of the “exploitation book” is great! It shows us just what lengths MGM went to in promoting the film. Probably the biggest promotion of a film to date since Disney’s Snow White in 1937. Lots of colorful ad ideas, black and white ad ideas, and more. It’s a smaller version of the original of course, but wonderful nonetheless. It makes me want to go out and find an original to bid on at auction (check out the auction sites, as copies pop up from time to time – but they’re not cheap!). An added bonus is the “letter” provided by Warner Home Video. It’s printed on a facsimile of the original MGM letterhead and printed in the old typewriter font, and gives us 2009 readers and explanation of what a campaign book was.
70th Anniversary Wrist Watch
Another fun extra, with “genuine crystals”. It’s provided in its own metal box with the Emerald City and 70th anniversary logo printed on the cover. Very nice!
Bonus Digital Copy
The fifth disc in this collection is this digtial copy of the film. It’s provided in a separate sleeve and a sheet with instructions for Mac and PC users (see below). All you do is pop the disc into your computer, open up iTunes, and enter the authorization code provided. You then get your digital copy of the restored film downloaded onto your computer for use in your iPod or any other like device – for free!
Above: The sleeve and disc of the digital copy of the film.
Below: Cover and first page of the beautiful collector’s book:
Also included are some paper inserts selling the “Ultimate Charm Bracelet” of OZ, a “Farieis of Oz Collection” from The Hamilton Collection company, and a flyer for the upcoming UCE of Gone With the Wind, and a Warner Home Video product flyer.
The new restoration of the film is glorious! I can only image how it looks on Blu-ray. On standard DVD and my analog TV, I can definitely see a huge difference in the image quality of the film. I was wondering if going from the 2005 to 2009 release on standard DVD would really make any different. It does! For those of you who are waiting to upgrade to Blu-ray, this standard edition is well worth it! Amazing restoration. I can’t image what else could be done to make this film look any better. But, we said that back in 2005 – so who knows?
The menus are a letdown. They’re copied from the 2005 release. I was assuming that we would get new menus. I’m sure the Blu-ray had new ones. A new feature on this disc is the “Sing-Along” option. Very fun! What’s odd is that they included the “Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz” mini-documentary about the 2005 restoration. No explanation is given that it’s all about the 2005 restoration, which is moot now that this new restoration was done in “8k” rather than the “4k” talked about in the doc. It’s obvious that the 2005 disc was basically copied over, the new restoration of the film plopped in, and the “Sing-Along” feature added. Frankly, this is a letdown. With all the hoopla surrounding this new release, this copying of the 2005 disc makes Warner Home Video look like they took the cheap way out (and concentrated solely on the Blu-ray edition). In the end, it’s really about the film itself and it’s stellar! I would give the film an “A++” and the extras a “B”.
List of disc contents:
· Remastered feature with Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio (NEW)
· Sing-along Track (NEW)
· Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman (daughter of Arthur Freed), Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr (son of Bert Lahr), Jane Lahr (daughter of Bert Lahr), Hamilton Meserve (son of Margaret Hamilton), Dona Massin (MGM choreographer), William Tuttle (make-up artist), Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy, and Jerry Maren
· The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook
· Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz
· We Haven’t Really Met Properly
· Music and Effects Track
** Be sure to view the film at least once with with feature chosen, you’ll appreciate the time and effort that went into all the amazing sound effects and music!
· Original Mono Track
This is another rehash of the 2005 set, this time “disc two”. WHV has been promoting their restoration to HD of the Scarecrow’s dance outtake footage. I had hoped that it would be included here as a part of the outtakes but it’s not. The only way view the new HD restoration of that outtake is to get the Blu-ray set. That’s very disappointing.
Also disappointing is the Stills Gallery. It’s a copy from the 2005 release, which was a copy from the old laser disc release. And it shows. With all the promotion surrounding these releases, one would think that WHV would take the time to update this feature. The images are blurry, and even incorrect. At one point, a title slide tells us that the next photo is to be Judy Garland in the recording studio, but it’s not. There are so many amazing photos out there from the production that it’s a shame WHV didn’t update this feature. As it is, it’s basically unwatchable. The new hardbound book noted above is a much better option for looking at great OZ photos.
List of disc contents:
· The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic [1990 TV special]
· Memories of Oz [2001 TCM documentary]
· The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz
· Because of the Wonderful Things it Does: The Legacy of Oz
· Harold Arlen’s Home Movies
· Outtakes and Deleted Scenes
· It’s a Twister! It’s a Twister! The Tornado Tests
· Off to See the Wizard
· 3 Vault Shorts
· Audio Jukebox Selection
o Leo Is on the Air Radio Promo
o Good News of 1939 Radio Show
o 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
· Still Galleries
· Six Theatrical Trailers
Here’s where we get some new features! The new documentary about director Victor Fleming is wonderful. He’s not as famous as Hitchcock or Capra, but he did helm both OZ and 1939’s other big Technicolor classic Gone with the Wind – quite the achievement. But his other films are classics in their own right. It’s a long overdue celebration of his talents. Hopefully Turner Classic Movies will air it for those who don’t get these boxed sets.
“Celebrating Hollywood’s Biggest Little Stars” is a fun look at the surviving little people who played The Munchkins, their memories, and their receipt of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The 1990 TV movie biography about OZ author L. Frank Baum, starring John Ritter, gets its DVD debut here. Sadly the image quality is absolutely horrendous! It looks like a bad VHS copy of the original 1990 airing. I guess maybe it was filmed on videotape and hasn’t aged well. I thought it might be my disc, but everything else on the disc plays fine. This is another feature that’s unwatchable. It’s blurry and looks out of focus.
List of disc contents:
· Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman (NEW)
· L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain
· Celebrating Hollywood’s Biggest Little Stars (NEW)
· The Dreamer of Oz [1990 TV special] (NEW)
· The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
· The Wizard of Oz [1933 cartoon]
Here we get a new menu in the style of the copied menus for discs 1-3, plus the rest of the surviving silent film versions of OZ. With the two new films from 1914, this completes all the surviving adaptations of OZ up to and including the 1939 masterpiece. Wonderful to watch!
List of disc contents:
· His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz
· The Magic Cloak of Oz  (NEW)
· The Patchwork Girl of Oz  (NEW)
· The Wizard of Oz [1925 feature]
That’s it! More than enough to keep OZ fans happy for hours upon hours. In spite of some of the goofs Warner Home Video made in producing this set, it’s still worth getting. Again, the new restoration of the film alone is worth it. Add in the new extras like the Fleming documentary, ignore the Ritter film (sad to say – his performance is wonderful), and wallow in the silent versions, and you have a unique and quite fun trip down The Yellow Brick Road! Yep, it’s a “Whiz of a Wiz”.
Film itself: A++
Print extras (book, watch, etc.): A
Disc extras: B
Also available in: standard DVD 2-disc edition; 2-disc Blu-ray boxed set (same as this set, only in Blu-ray and with a few more extra features.
The Blu-ray presents the film in the best, and most amazing, way possible. The film looks glorious. The one drawback is that the promised Scarecrow Extended Dance is not presented in HD but as one of the SD (standard definition) extras. In fact, everything is copied over from the 2005 SD discs, in SD, aside from the film itself. Maybe the 75th anniversary will bring us some new stills galleries (please!), newly remastered (and complete) alternate audio tracks, and everything else ALL in HD. I think this film deserves it, don’t you?
© 2009 Scott Brogan – Judy Garland News and Events