The Wizard of Oz appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not too many problems appeared in this transfer, it didn’t quite achieve the splendor one might expect.
The film's first 20 and final three minutes were shot in sepiatone, whereas the remainder of the movie was filmed in Technicolor. Overall, the sepiatone scenes looked good, as they displayed positive sharpness and solid dark levels. Grain seemed a little heavy at times, but I believe this emanated from the source material. I noticed a couple of specks and one pesky hair during the movie’s conclusion; otherwise those segments were clean.
The color segments showed improvements but suffered from some concerns of their own. The main problem stemmed from sharpness. Close-ups looked nice, and many wider shots seemed fine as well. However, more than a few of the latter appeared moderately fuzzy and lacked great definition. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent for the most part; I saw maybe one or two specks and that was it.
Colors were excellent. The tones came across as quite lively and dynamic throughout the film. This was the kind of flick that could show off the Technicolor, and the transfer did so. Blacks were quite dense, while shadows appeared visible and clear. If not for the softness, this would have been an “A” level image.
The Wizard Of Oz has been remixed into a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. In terms of soundfield, the new track didn't tamper terribly with the basic elements. The sound still stuck pretty closely to the center channel for the most part. Mainly it used the sides and rears for music, though some effects spread out as well. Check out the tornado sequences for some of the most prominent examples of that usage.
While the extra channels served the effects acceptably well – and even tossed out some stereo material in the rear – the music seemed less successful. This wasn’t a real stereo mix for the score and songs. The track faked it in some ways but usually stayed with broad mono. This worked okay in that it wasn’t a distraction, but I can’t say it added anything to the experience; it simply spread the elements across the channels.
Quality seemed good for its era. Dialogue lacked tremendous clarity but was reasonably distinctive and concise. I noticed no edginess and found the speech to seem consistently intelligible. Effects showed pretty good definition, while bass response complemented things well; a few of the louder scenes offered nice low-end.
Music showed the track’s age the most clearly but remained acceptable. Some of the songs were noticeably tinny, and there wasn’t a lot of range to the score and tunes. Still, this was to be expected of material recorded in 1939, and I thought these elements came across fine for their age. I couldn’t rave about this remix, but it acted as a fairly natural extension of the original monaural material.
Speaking of which, this disc included that original mono mix. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the impression anyone put much effort into its restoration. I thought the mono track was more brittle and less full than the 5.1 mix, and it also demonstrated a lot of noise. Usually I prefer original audio to remixes, as they often come across as more accurate and natural. That wasn’t the case here. I’m not wild about the broadened soundfield of the 5.1 track, but it presented superior sound so it’s the one to pick.
How did the picture and audio quality of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2005 CE DVD? Audio was essentially a wash, and that didn’t surprise me. Lossless 1939 audio is still 1939 audio; it’s not like compression did much to rob it of its natural splendor. The sound was fine given its age, but I didn’t think the TrueHD mix was any better than the DD one.
As for visuals, they showed moderate improvements solely due to the higher resolution of Blu-ray. Conversely, though, the format’s greater potential made flaws more apparent, especially in terms of sharpness. The DVD got away with more softness because it lacked the crisp potential of Blu-ray. Still, the Blu-ray did look noticeably better than the DVD; just don’t expect a breathtaking revelation.
The Blu-ray includes the same disc-based extras along with some new components. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with blue print.
On Disc One, we open with an audio commentary. This combines a running, screen-specific chat from film historian John Fricke along with many archival clips. In that category, we get notes from actors Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, Margaret Hamilton and Jerry Maren, producer Mervyn LeRoy, makeup artist William Tuttle, assistant/extra Dona Massin, Barbara Freed-Saltman (daughter of associate producer Arthur Freed), John and Jane Lahr (kids of actor Bert Lahr), and Hamilton Meserve (Margaret Hamilton’s son).
Fricke dominates the chat. He covers pretty much everything you would want to know. Fricke talks about the adaptation of the story and contrasts the movie with the original book and other versions, casting and concerns in that area, the problems confronted by the actors, makeup and costumes, sets and visual design, songs and music, issues related to the directors, and many production notes. Fricke clearly knows his stuff, and he makes sure we get a fine education in all things Oz.
The archival interviews sprinkle between Fricke’s comments well. They let us know some behind the scenes elements and provide quite a few fun stories. Hamilton proves especially entertaining as she chats about her casting. All of this adds up to a terrific little commentary.
For another alternate audio experience, we can check out Oz with a music-and-effects track. It should come as no surprise that this eliminates the dialogue to leave solely score, songs, and effects. It presents these with monaural audio and offers an intriguing way to examine Oz.
Let loose your Karaoke side via a Sing-Along Track. This simply takes the movie’s standard audio and plops some lyrics on screen. The words light up at the right time to help us croon along with them. I have no use for this feature, but maybe someone will like it.
Continuing on Disc One, we find The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook. In this charming 10-minute and 22-second feature, Angela Lansbury reads parts of the original L. Frank Baum book while we look at its illustrations. It offers a nice way to check out the story.
For a look at the film’s transfer, we head to the 11-minute and 23-second Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz. It offers a glimpse of the various processes along with comments from technical operations VP Rob Hummell, mastering VP Ned Price, lead technical director Paul Klamer, digital restoration operators Cathy Quiroz, Steven G. Banks and Sheila MacMullan, digital restoration supervisor Steve Sanchez and telecine colorist Janet Wilson. These sorts of programs always tend to be self-congratulatory, and that occurs here as well. However, we get some good notes on the various challenges, so check this out if you’re curious about what it took to restore Oz.
In We Haven’t Really Met Properly…, we get information about the movie’s primary supporting players. Taken via the “Play All” option, these last 21 minutes and 15 seconds. We learn more about actors Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick and Terry the dog. With nine participants packed into 21 minutes, we don’t get a lot of detail, but these snippets offer a decent overview of the various performers’ careers.
Next we head to The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic. Produced by Jack Haley Jr., this 50-minute and 45-second program is hosted by Angela Lansbury and provides a very nice look at the project. The piece combines early 1990s interviews with older clips. We hear from Oz actors Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Jerry Maren, and Meinhardt Raabe plus director King Vidor, special effects supervisor Arnold Gillespie, producer Mervyn LeRoy, and composers Harold Arlen and EY Harburg. We also hear from actor Robert Young, Garland's kids Liza Minelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft, author’s grandson Robert A. Baum, and actor’s son John Lahr.
The program looks at the novel’s path to production, casting, the background of author L. Frank Baum and his Oz books, its adaptation and the script, the score and songs, directors, the exploits of the Munchkins, special effects, costumes, makeup and the rigors of the shoot, publicity, the film’s reception and awards, and its legacy. Though “Classic” definitely advocates the notion that Oz is a legend, it doesn’t make out the project to have been a rosy experience. Early on Jack Haley tells how everyone thinks it must have been delightful to make the flick and responds “like hell it was fun!” We learn many negatives attached to the shoot in this solid overview. It's an excellent and entertaining overview of the film's creation and its legacy.
A 2001 Turner Classic Movies program called Memories of Oz runs 27 minutes and 35 seconds. It offers remarks from Jane Lahr, Raabe, Massin, Maren, actors Mickey Carroll, Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini, Clarence Swenson, Ruth Duccini and Buddy Ebsen, filmmaker John Waters, Oz collector Willard Carroll, The Munchkins of Oz author Stephen Cox, and “Oz-ocologist” Woolsey Ackerman. The show compares the book and movie, its themes and era, notes from the production such as sets and choreography, the performers and relationships, costumes and makeup, merchandising, the reuse of Oz materials in other films, and its legacy.
Some of the material in “Memories” also appears elsewhere, but we get plenty of fresh information. The show particularly emphasizes the Munchkins, so that adds a new perspective. I also like the notes about merchandizing and the glimpses of Oz props and costumes in other flicks. This turns into a useful little program.
After this we get the 29-minute and 40-second The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz. Narrated by Sydney Pollack, this piece includes statements from filmmakers Peter Jackson, Rob Bowman, Martha Coolidge and Nicholas Meyer, composers Howard Shore, Don Davis and Randy Newman, actors Sean Astin, character effects designers Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, cinematographers John Hora and Allen Daviau, composer/lyricist Richard M. Sherman, entertainer Michael Feinstein, costume designers Colleen Atwood and Albert Wolsky, production designer Henry Bumstead, editors Joel Cox and Anne V. Coates, production designers Kevin Conran, Corey Hope Kaplan and Gene Allen, makeup effects artist Rick Baker, and visual effects designers Harrison Ellenshaw and John Dykstra.
“Tribute” looks at MGM in the Thirties, the movie’s score/songs and their performances, the film’s visual design including sets, makeup and costumes, visual effects, the use and complications of Technicolor, and impressions of the movie. Programs that consist of appreciation from filmmakers not involved with the flick in question often turn into little more than praisefests. Some of that occurs during “Tribute”, but there’s enough insight on display to make it worthwhile. “Tribute” gets into the music and production design quite well; it digs into them much better than anywhere else in this package. Those elements make this a good show.
Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz lasts 25 minutes. Hosted by Brittany Murphy, it presents notes from Fricke, Jane and John Lahr, Willard Carroll, Raabe, Pellegrini, Swensen, USC film professor Drew Casper, Books of Wonder owner Peter Glassman, cartoonist, Oz illustrator and author Eric Shanower, Jim Henson Company co-CEO Lisa Henson, theatre historian Mark Evan Swartz, transpersonal psychotherapist/Baum’s granddaughter Gita Dorothy Morena, and Oz impressionists Kurt S. Raymond and Elaine Horn.
As implied by the title, “Legacy” looks at Oz’s afterlife. It discusses the movie’s TV airings, reissues of the books and spin-off efforts, influences on other works, interpretations of the story, Oz collectors and various efforts of fans, and the movie’s continued presence in pop culture. “Legacy” offers a decent overview of the flick’s life after its theatrical release. Some of these are pretty freaky – those impressionists just ain’t right – but it provides a reasonably interesting view of how the film’s persisted for all these years. Don’t expect great societal interpretation, but you’ll get a fair synopsis of different topics.
For some behind the scenes materials, we head to *Harold Arlen’s Home Movies is exactly that: color shots taken by the songwriter on the set. We get four minutes and 38 seconds of this very cool film.
We continue with Outtakes and Deleted Scenes. The first of these is an extended version of the Scarecrow's "If I Only Had A Brain". Significant portions of his dance routine were cut and they're restored here. The result is a lengthy (four minutes, 40 seconds) but entertaining number. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the material; it integrates nicely with the original footage.
An alternate version of "If I Only Had A Heart" appears as well, this time performed by Buddy Ebsen. He had originally been cast as the Tin Woodman but had to drop out after getting ill from the make-up. This 80-second segment offers production shots of Ebsen as the TW accompanied by audio of his version of the song. It's an interesting look at an Oz that could've been.
A similar piece occurs in "Triumphant Return to the Emerald City". Like the "Heart" clip, we find audio of a song - a reprise of "Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead!" - plus production stills. This part goes for two minutes and is also quite fascinating.
One more time! "Over the Rainbow" uses the same synthesis of audio and production photos to show us a reprise of the classic song. This was to take place as Dorothy is imprisoned in the Witch's tower, and I have to say that it offers an amazing performance from Garland. If she's not really crying, it sure sounds like she is; her rendition is absolutely heart breaking, and a cold, nasty sucker like me doesn't usually feel that way. Maybe it wouldn't have worked so well with the image, but as it stands, I think they should have kept it in the film, though it might have been so upsetting that it could have too greatly disrupted the tone of the movie.
The final deleted scene shows the legendary "Jitterbug". Even Oz know-littles like myself had heard about this; it's a complete dance number cut from the film. This segment uses the usual audio/production picture method, though it also includes some cool home movies from songwriter Harold Arlen that show the rehearsals.
After this we find eight minutes and 14 seconds of Tornado Tests. These let us see stabs at creating a twister, and they’re interesting to view as they offer a nice look at the era’s visual effects. We get eight clips from Off to See the Wizard. Apparently this was an ABC TV show in 1967 that presented some old MGM family-oriented films. In addition, some cartoons were animated by Chuck Jones to come before commercials or to announce the next week's program. Eight of these appear; we get four "back to the show" entries, each of which last 30 seconds, and four "next week" clips, each of which run 20 seconds. This was another entertaining part of the DVD. (Keep an ear out to hear Mel Blanc in the mix, by the way.)
Under the banner From the Vault, we locate three elements. “Excerpts from the Texas Contest Winners 'Trailer'” shows a newsreel-esque clip of some folks from - duh! - Texas who were allowed to check out the filming; the 90-second piece is a fun little glimpse at the past. We also get the “Another Romance of Celluloid' Short”, a 10-minute and 28-second clip that was used to show how electrical power was used in movies. The excerpt in question shows some behind the scenes shots of some Oz sets. It’s a neat piece of history.
Lastly we find “'Cavalcade of Academy Awards' Excerpt” offers a brief look at that newsreel-style program. We see about two minutes and 20 seconds of the piece, most of which shows the presentation of Garland's special Oscar.
A number of different elements appear in the “Audio Vault”. In the Jukebox, a ton of alternate takes of songs and other music-related piece can be found; all in all, there's more than four hours and 45 minutes of audio in the "Jukebox". Some of this is fun for more casual fans - I particularly enjoyed the clips of Munchkin vocals that hadn't yet been altered - but most of it will most likely appeal mainly to die-hard Oz fans. The variations tend to be pretty small for the most part, so you have to be very well acquainted with the film to notice the differences. Still, it's a great addition and one sure to be fascinating to some.
Leo Is On the Air offers a 12-minute program that essentially acts as a long radio ad. It's a promotional piece and nothing more, but it's funny how interesting old bits like this are; it's cool to check out the advertising techniques of old-time Hollywood.
Another audio program called Good News of 1939 appears. This hour-long radio show is part of a running series from the period and it's a comedy/variety program hosted by Robert Young. We hear many of the main cast members - Garland, Bolger, Morgan and Lahr - perform songs and routines, and we also find pieces like Fanny Brice's "Baby Snooks" bit. It's kind of an odd little show, but it's fun to have as a historical piece.
The “Vault” ends with a 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast. In this hour-long piece, we get a recreation of Oz. It features Garland and no other original cast members. The movie doesn’t translate well to radio, mainly because it was such a visual flick; here Garland has to describe much of what we see in the film. She also oversings “Over the Rainbow” something fierce and kills the original rendition’s lovely simplicity. The radio show is cool to hear for historical purposes but it doesn’t work well on its own.
As we move to the “Stills Galleries”, we get many more components. One note before I detail them: many of these sections include brief text discussions of the material. I found these helpful as they explained what it was we were about to see. The tone could even get a little catty at times, such as when an early look for Dorothy referred to her as "Lolita Gale".
Oz on Broadway includes 17 shots related to that old production, while Pre-MGM offers 17 screens of book art and photos from pre-1939 films. *Sketches and Storyboards presents 14 screens of information, with some concept drawings and basic storyboards. *Costumes and Makeup Tests gives us 54 screens that entertainingly depict the evolution of the characters' appearances. (That's also the section that provides the majority of the snotty comments I described earlier.) Richard Thorpe’s Oz provides 32 photos of scenes from that director’s early stabs at the production, while Buddy Ebsen has eight shots of that eventually-replaced actor as the Tin Man.
The 273 photos of Oz Comes to Life follow the characters on the Yellow Brick Road and in Oz along with some other components. Behind the Scenes provides seven simple candid shots of the participants. *Portraits gives us 73 frames of publicity stills; I really enjoyed all of these, even the unretouched photo of Garland, which offers a neat look at a little studio trickery. *Special Effects gives us 29 screens of materials that relate to the effects; these are mainly documents that discuss the effects and different aspects of them, and were the least interesting aspect of this area. *Post Production Stills gives 10 more frames of work on the movie after shooting completed.
Deleted Scenes looks at 18 shots from cut sequences. The section goes ahead with 32 Original Publicity shots, 14 photos from the movie's New York premiere, 11 pictures from its *Hollywood premiere, nine from the 1940 Oscars ceremony, and 11 posters from foreign countries in Oz Abroad. Finally, Oz Revivals includes seven advertising and merchandise shots.
Disc One ends with six different theatrical trailers. We find a teaser called "What Is Oz?" which was apparently used prior to the 1939 Hollywood engagement of the film, and it's a trippy little piece. The 1940 “Loew’s Cairo Theater Trailer” was used to promote some new Egyptian theaters and shows some unused bits of Oz.
Next come two ads from 1949. The first is a fairly traditional preview, but the second is much more unusual; it was aimed at the adult audience and tries - in many odd ways - to attract an older crowd. A "Children's Matinee" trailer from 1970 appears - which is as patronizing and condescending as the "adult" clip is odd - as does another reissue preview from 1998. One odd thing about it: it's been letterboxed, which crops part of the original theatrical image! I don't know if that's how it played during the reissue, though a listing on IMDB indicates that this seems to have been the case. How odd! (And am I the only one who finds this piece's barrage of reminders that everything's been "digitally remastered" amusing? Companies love to use those buzzwords to tell us how terrific the new version must be, although the process doesn't necessarily connote improvement.)
As we move to Disc Two, we find elements that take a look at the creators of Oz and other versions of the story. These open with L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain. In this 27-minute and 35-second program, we learn about the author via archival materials and interviews. The latter include notes from Fricke, great-granddaughter Gita Morena, great-grandson Robert A. Baum, Annotated Wizard of Oz author Michael Patrick Hearn, Bancroft Library deputy director Peter Hanff, Hotel Del Coronado Director of Heritage Programs Christine Donovan, and theater historian David Maxine.
As implied by the title, the program digs into the life and career of author Baum. It tells us of his childhood and marriage, his movement into writing, the creation of Oz and its sequels, and his many endeavors after its arrival. The show digs into his life well and offers a nice overview of his work. The piece goes by a little too quickly but it offers a solid synopsis.
Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman runs 34 minutes, eight seconds as it looks at the film’s director. It features comments from filmmaker William Friedkin and Francis Lawrence, critic/film historian Leonard Maltin,
How accurate is the biography offered here? I don’t know, but it’s a reasonably entertaining account, at least. The videotaped project looks awful – did this come from someone’s old VHS copy? – and it’s somewhat schmaltzy, but it’s acceptably enjoyable.
The 1910 take is pretty terrible but worth a look since it was the first screen representation of Oz. Cloak isn’t much better, but at least it gives us a story other than Wizard, which makes it of interest. Oddly, I don’t think the tale on which it’s based was part of the “Oz” line; from what I read, this was a fantasy piece Baum wrote separate from the “Oz” universe. I guess they added “Oz” to the title for commercial reasons.
Over on Disc Three – a standard DVD, by the way – we get a three-part film that looks at the history of MGM. 1992’s MGM: When the Lion Roars runs six hours, five minutes and 36 seconds. Hosted by Patrick Stewart, it includes interviews with story editor Samuel Marx, production manager Joe Cohn, directors Clarence Brown, Stanley Donen, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, William Hannah, Joe Barbera, John Huston, Richard Brooks and King Vidor, editor Margaret Booth, makeup supervisor William Tuttle, scenic artist George Gibson, screenwriter/studio head Dore Schary, contract dancers Dorothy Raye and Dorothy Tuttle, publicist Jim Mahoney, Senior VP – Administration Roger Mayer, Variety editorial supervisor Roger Bart, former MGM/UA owner Ted Turner, and actors Lew Ayres, Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, Helen Hayes, Maureen O’Sullivan, Eleanor Boardman, Lillian Gish, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, Luise Rainer, Mickey Rooney, Roddy McDowall, Jerry Maren, June Allyson, Katharine Hepburn, Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, George Murphy, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Charlton Heston, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Chamberlain.
The film starts with MGM’s founding in 1924 and takes us through their first hit (He Who Gets Slapped), other prominent projects, and various ups and downs that affected them. We get occasional biographical details about various actors, filmmakers and studio personnel.
That’s a pretty brief description of a documentary that lasts more than six hours, and though it’s accurate, it doesn’t do justice to the scope of the project. A normal studio overview would run through the big-name films and barely slow down for anything other than the most legendary. By contrast, Roars allows itself to tarry, so we get a surprising amount of detail about a wide variety of movies.
While that concludes the disc-based materials, this 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition features some other components as well. First we find Behind the Scenes of Production 1060, a 52-page hardcover “commemorative book”. It includes production and promotional photos, replicas of various documents, biographies, and script pages. It offers a tasteful and classy collection of materials.
Does this set lose anything from the 2005 CE? Yes, but not much. All of the disc-based components reappear. We do fail to get some paper materials. The 2005 CE had a “1939 Kodachrome Portfolio” and a 1939 Promotional Portfolio. Both were pretty cool, so it’s too bad they don’t reappear here. The new paper pieces help compensate, however.