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Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) wants more than to be on her family farm. She craves adventure and magic and wonder, and when local meanie Miss Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) threatens to take her dog Toto away and she gets no support from her Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) or Uncle Henry (Charles Grapewin), Dorothy decides to run away from home and find the freedom she was looking for.

 Wizard of Oz, The
Having a change of heart after meeting the travelling fortune teller Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) Dorothy returns home, only to arrive during a tornado. With her family and friends already safely tucked away in the storm cellar, Dorothy and Toto run into their home and when Dorothy is knocked unconscious by a flying window pane her world literally turns upside down and the twister takes her over the rainbow to the land of Oz, where only a Wizard, a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley) and a Lion (Bert Lahr) can help her get home before the Wicked Witch of the West catches up with her.

How in a world drowning in photo realistic CGI, franchise based epic tales and family aimed adventures that try desperately to cater for each individual member, does this seventy year old movie, based entirely on a painted background sound stage, with a villain being a simple painted green lady with arched fingers, still manage to outdo most of them at almost every turn? The Wizard of Oz is a movie that I seem to appreciate more and more as the years roll by. As a child I used to look forward to watching it at Christmas with my Mum, and then as I hit my teenage years it was the last thing I wanted to watch. Later on it snuck into a re-watch and I was totally won over by it all over again and today after sharing viewings of it many times with my kids, it’s a movie, that while not one of my all time favourites, is one that sits snugly close to my heart.

Seeing it again in all of its HD glory I paid special attention to the parts that I adore the most, the first being the tornado scenes. The small mini movie of an introduction that sets up Dorothy’s adventure/hallucination (whichever way you chose to look at it) gets straight to the point and lays all of Dorothy's childlike problems out for all to see, but for me its not until those wonderful shots of the tornado tearing its way across the fields toward her farm that The Wizard of Oz becomes extraordinary (yes I know, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is before that but what can I say? I love that twister!). For a movie where nearly every visual trick they pull is an illusion that’s easy to see through, the tornado moments are absolutely mind blowing and for me are still some of the greatest special effects to grace our screens.

Arriving in Oz, we get the next element of The Wizard of Oz that is every bit as great its always been and no it’s not the Lollipop Guild song (I’ve never been able to work out who’s the ugliest one in that band of three), it is of course the Wicked Witch of the West. Despite all my best intentions, I have to admit she still sort of wigs me outs. She’s just a green chick in a simple black witches outfit, but there’s still something about the way she points her witch fingers and cackles her voice that makes her one of the best villains ever, and as the movie goes on she ain’t afraid to throw some fire balls about either.

 Wizard of Oz, The
Moving on to the first of Dorothy’s co-travellers, the scene that introduces the scarecrow is a junction I still adore reaching. I must have heard his song about what he’d do with a brain a million times, but every single time is still a magical moment in cinema. Everything from his dance (falling over) moves, that twinkle in his eye and the absolute believability that all he wants is a brain is a massive element of what makes The Wizard of Oz hold itself high in the fantasy movie realm, You believe in these characters. Despite all of your senses telling you these are costumes, these are actors, if they keep walking they’ll walk straight into that painted background, but none of it seems to matter, somehow, despite itself, this movie wraps you up in these characters journey to see the Wizard and the real magic of cinema shines out of the screen.

Moving through the meeting of the Tin Man, which once again comes with a great introduction (and another twisted appearance from the Witch—how is standing on a shed as creepy as she makes it?) and grinning along with the ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ build up to meeting the Lion, we’re now officially off to see the Wizard and while I’d go as far as to say the movie teeters off a little bit for me here (and it’s not all of that scene stealing Lion’s fault) there’s still plenty to enjoy.

Now, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, doorman, guard and whatever else, is a performance I couldn’t care less about as a child or as a teenager, but as an adult, I really enjoy this guy's approach to his many roles. Not only does he provide one of my favourite movie lines ‘Well, that’s a horse of a different colour’, but he comes packed with lots of character and approaches his multiple roles with equal amounts of heart and chuckles. The Wizard visuals aren’t exactly up my street and I’ve never really liked the floating head and flames combo, nor do I like the insistence that this small group go off to either kill the Witch and get her broomstick or die trying, but I guess we get the whole melting Witch because of it ‘what a world, what a world’ so I guess its worth it, even if I think it sticks out from the light tone of the rest of the movie a little too much.

Getting to the end of the umpteenth time I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz it still leaves a smile on my face. I really enjoy seeing all of these characters getting their trinkets proving that they had what they wanted all along and I really do believe that these three guys are gonna miss Dorothy when she goes home (a factor that is beautifully re-captured with the reunion in Return to Oz).

The Wizard of Oz continues to prove that it’s one of the greatest feel good, beautifully orchestrated pieces of cinema out there and despite the fact that the logical side of my brain keeps screaming at me that I shouldn’t buy into its simplistic approach, or that it’s all on a soundstage with painted backgrounds or even that a better adaptation should be made, these instincts are won over by the side that just enjoys believing in the unquantifiable amount of magic wrapped in this classic tale, its characters and its love for that land that sits somewhere over the rainbow.

 Wizard of Oz, The

Video


I’ll start by saying that the upgrade here wasn’t the jaw dropping step up that I thought it would be, but in all fairness [/i]The Wizard of Oz[/i] has been treated pretty damn well on the last two DVD releases so the enhancements here didn’t need to be as drastic as other less cared for movies. That said, the improvements in the 1080p transfer are still immediately noticeable and generally impressive.

Beginning with the sepia opening, everything looks clean and the proof of the masterful restoration work done over the years is immediately apparent. There are only minor specs of dirt, no real signs of age outside of the style and beyond the ever so slight flicker that’s always been part of The Wizard of Oz. The image is near flawless (which for a seventy year old movie is enough to hail it as a virtual miracle).

Opening the door after the crash down to Oz, the vibrancy of the colour and the brightness of the lighting hits with more effect than ever before. The detail in the transfer immediately struck me, getting a real feel for the textures and what the sets were made of. The shiny model leaves and plants of Munchkin Land have never looked so plastic. The borders of where painted backdrop meets set decoration really show the scale of the vast set and every little scrunched face and bald cap of the little people surrounding Dorothy are beautifully captured.

Of course, despite this step up in colour and detail the upgrade still has its limitations on show. Skin textures can still feel pretty soft, especially in some Dorothy’s close ups, though it has to be pointed out that there are a couple that show off every freckle on her face and are simply astonishing. In addition, there are other shots that come with that Wizard of Oz softness, some intentional to provide a soft focus close up and others showing the filmmaking limitations and while all of this is part of the movie's charm they are more noticeable than ever when compared to the best of the best looking scenes. Also for the grain sensitive out there, there is a level of grain here but of course this is the filmic quality of the movie as opposed to a problem with the transfer.

In regards to really studying how The Wizard of Oz was created, there really isn’t anywhere else that shows it off as greatly as this Blu-ray manages. Seemingly every brush stroke of the sets or make up techniques are apparent. The lines of where face meets make up on the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are all there to be marvelled and the costumes are just astonishing. From Dorothy’s chequered dress, through the perfect black of the Witch's dress, from the glowing red ribbon in the lion’s hair to the redness of Dorothy’s hair or the range of greens in the face paint on the witch. It’s all on show here like never before and for the hardcore Oz fans you are really in for a treat.

 Wizard of Oz, The

Audio


The audio is a 5.1 TrueHD track, but honestly nearly everything lives in the front speakers and fairly simply at that. Dialogue sits in the centres and the music fills the lefts and rights. I personally found the overall power of the track to be slightly lower than a standard Blu-ray release and had it a few notches higher to meet my requirements, but I’m not going to hold that against it because the track is clear and strong and other than the hiss of the original musical recordings this seventy year old movie sounds more impressive than some movies released in this decade.

Little bits that really shine out of the tracks are small special effects that while not overly dynamic have been represented much better here than previous standard definition releases. The thump of the house hitting down on Oz makes full use of the bass, the musical numbers ring out with absolute clarity and small growls from the lion or booms from the Wizard's scare tactics in his chamber have a weight that I’ve never really experienced with the movie before.

Extras


Disc One: Blu-ray
Sydney Pollack hosts the commentary which consists of archive interviews, sound clips and historian details of the classic. It’s commentary tracks like this that not only highlight just how effective a commentary can be but how a commentary can make an already fantastic movie an even more enjoyable event re-watching.

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic’ (50:49 SD) is almost a classic unto itself now. The 1990 documentary narrated by Angela Lansbury really is a hell of a detailed affair and the nostalgic approach to it all is warming and thoroughly enjoyable. Everything on offer here, from deleted scenes, stories of the behind the scenes politics as well as set pictures, interviews and costume tests is just more than you could ever desire from a Wizard of Oz documentary.

‘The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz’ (29:45 SD) is a more up to date documentary with the likes of Peter Jackson and Howard Shore giving opinions on the movie... oh and Sean Astin. This is very much in tune with the Disney documentaries that live on the platinum editions and all of the stories that come from all involved make this another great watch.

‘Because of the Wonderful Things he does: The Legacy of Oz’ (25:05 SD) looks closely at how the popularity of The Wizard of Oz grew and grew though its TV airings—how its TV screenings became a yearly event that always proved popular with ratings and how it was as important a part to the movie's legacy as its initial cinematic run. The documentary also goes into what the story represents as well as the spin offs it created, the merchandise it generated and the auction of the ruby slippers that came years after the movie.

 Wizard of Oz, The
‘Memories of Oz’ (27:39 SD) has cast, cast families and celebrity fans discussing their memories of the movie, lines, scenes, moments and more on the effect the movie had to the world. It goes into a bit more detail on the matte paintings and some of the special effects (including the step from sepia into colour) and because of the documentary's inability to stick to one thing for too long it never gets bogged down in some of the elements that begin to repeat themselves from the other previous documentaries.

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook’ (10:27 SD) is the L. Frank Baum book narrated by Angela Lansbury reading the story over the books illustrations which is a nice addition.

Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz (11:27 SD) is the short but very detailed look at just what the massive restoration entailed and ‘We Haven’t Really Met Properly...’ (21:23 SD) is a collection of Angela Lansbury narrated clips focusing on all of the key actors (even looking at Terry as Toto) and all run for two to three minutes or in a play all function.

‘Audio Extras’ allows you to watch the entire movie with either the music and effects track only or the original mono track. Joining that is the ability to listen to audio tracks of original recordings, outtakes and variations of all of the songs all combining to an hour and ten minutes worth of music.

‘Leo is on the Air Radio Promo’ (Audio 12:26), ‘Good News of 1939 Radio Show' (Audio 01:01:02) and '12-25-2950 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast' (Audio 01:00:00) are a whole collection of Wizard of Oz related radio shows featuring various cast interviews and the Lux Radio one even features Judy Garland reading her part in a radio play of the story.

‘Sing-Along with the movie’ is what you’d expect with Karaoke style coloured fonts and of course you can chapter select the songs you’re after rather than watching the whole movie.

‘Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power’ (10:31 SD) covers a small glimpse from an MGM TV show that shows a brief look at The Wizard Of Oz, but focuses mainly on how electricity was used to make movies.

 Wizard of Oz, The
‘Cavalcade of the Academy Award Excerpt’ (02:14 SD) features the clips from The Oscars and Garland getting her award. ‘Texas Contest Winners’ (01:26 SD) is a segment from a short film showing a cast meet and greet outside the rehearsal hall.

‘Off to see the Wizard’ (03:57 SD) are Chuck Jones cartoon segments featuring Wizard of Oz characters that were used on an ABC prime time slot that showed family films (I love this sort of thing) and ‘Still Galleries’, which is split down into eighteen sections with areas like Oz On Broadway, Deleted Scenes and Oz Revivals, which are literally packed with images to view. Some of the poster artwork over the years is great to flick through and there really are some great photos on offer too.

There are six trailers from 1939 to 1998 to look through in their glory, and hitting the ‘Additional Footage’ section, ‘Harold Arden’s Home Movies’ (04:40 SD) shows the composer's home recording of the portrait sittings and visits to the set which are all great to see and very personal in their feel and the ‘Outtakes and Deleted Scenes’ (04:37 SD) of which there are five, includes a deleted Scarecrow scene in full.

‘It’s A Twister! It’s A Twister!: The Tornado Tests' (08:17 SD) demonstrates the amazing work done in creating these incredible effects and really shows off the simple yet totally effective nature of the effects and finishing up disc one is the Warner Online selection.

At this stage, I would have given The Wizard Of Oz top marks for the amount of in depth wonderfully enjoyable features (as well as a few that will really only excite die hard Oz-ites) but it doesn’t end there because there’s a disc two!

Disc Two: Blu-ray
In the first segment, ‘Behind the Story’, our first extra is ‘Victor Fleming: Master Craftsmen’ (34:08 SD), which looks specifically at the director's body of work with input from Leonard Maltin, William Friedkin and many others. This really broadened my knowledge of a director I knew very little about and is a fine addition to the features, focussing on more than just the movie.

 Wizard of Oz, The
‘L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain’ (27:45 SD) looks at the writer of the original book and his life leading up to it. It looks at the illustrations, the public response to his story and the adaptations that followed. Lastly ‘Hollywood Celebrates its Biggest Little Stars’ (10:23 SD) highlights Oz’s little actors who play such a big part in the movie. They recount their personal stories and their work on the film and how it affected their lives.

In the ‘Extras’ section of disc two, we arrive at ‘The Dreamer of Oz’ (01:32:48 SD), which stars John Ritter as L. Frank Baum in a TV biopic. Made in 1990 it has to be said that this transfer looks awful and the over acting is TV-special-a-mungus, but kudos to Warner for including it.

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 1910’ (13:18 SD) shows the short original silent movie of the story from nearly a hundred years ago (whoa! It has a better transfer than ’The Dreamer of Oz’ which is only twenty

‘Her Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz 1914’ (59:07 SD) and ‘The Magic Cloak of Oz 1914’ (43:15 SD) and ‘The Patchwork Girl of Oz 1914’ (50:43 SD) are three more short films featuring Oz stories and shows a bit of a franchise happening in the early silent films.

‘The Wizard of Oz 1925’ (01:11:53 SD) is yet another full length adaptation from the silent film era and ‘Wizard of Oz 1933’ (08:13 SD) is a cartoon short in disintegrating quality but packed with animated charm.

Disc Three: DVD
As a nice bonus for the kids' rooms and completist sake, Warner throws in a standard-definition version of the movie as well.

So there we have it—a batch of features that literally cover everything. In fact the only thing I can think that’s outstanding is a documentary about all of the many TV homages over the years (which I guess would be a copyright nightmare) and as a personal selection a mention of Alan Moore’s take in his ‘Lost Girls’ spin on Dorothy’s story, though to get that on anywhere near a family friendly movie is probably a little too much to ask.

 Wizard of Oz, The

Overall


A release that shows off exactly what the power of Blu-ray can achieve for a much-loved movie. Warner has treated their crown jewel with just the right amount of love and have given us a package that is loaded with treats.

The AV is just about as impressive as a catalogue title comes and the features come by the bucket load. Essentially Warner Bros. have thrown down the emerald coloured gauntlet to all of the other classics out there and sets a standard in what can be considered a ‘complete package’ on the Blu-ray format. I can only hope other studios follow suit (and yes I’m eyeballing you too George Lucas).

For anyone wanting to take a trip back to Oz or to take someone along for the first time, there really is no better place to get your Oz fix. This caters for newcomers and diehard Oz-ites alike and frankly this is the easiest recommendation of the year.  

Anyway, that’s it from me, I’m off to see if Dark Side of the Moon syncs up any better with the HD version...

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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