Studio:Warner Home Video Year: 1939 Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick Director: Victor Fliming Release Date: September 29, 2009 Rating: G for (those terrifying flying monkeys) Run Time: 01h:41m:36s Genre(s): classics, family
"Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" - Glinda, the Good Witch (Billie Burke)
The Wizard of Oz comes to Blu-ray with an HD transfer so good, and supplements so voluminous, you'll never have to buy it again. Probably.
Movie Grade: A+
DVD Grade: A+
The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that's so omnipresent in our culture, it exists as more than a movie. It's an artifact, a symbol, a cultural movement, an indelible part of the American experience. More than that, even the trivia of its production, the kind of inside information usually of interest only to film geeks, has been repeated so many times it seems pointless to go over it once again ("Hey, did you know Margaret Hamilton suffered horrible burns during the shooting of a special effects sequence? Yeah, one of the Munchkins was so upset about it he hung himself... on camera!").
So you probably know the movie was considered a bit of a disappointment in its original release, only to become a sensation in the 1950s, when it began airing once a year as a television event. That's funny to think about now, as I contemplate the fourth version of the movie I've owned on digital media—watching this movie used to be something you had to wait around for all year, and even then, you were probably lucky if you got to see any of it in color. Not that I would know—I was born a year after the movie was first released on video in 1980. Yet despite the fact that it never held that "event" status for me, it's still an enduring childhood favorite, a fact that speaks to its timelessness.
If ubiquitous availability hasn't killed the Oz magic yet, the chance to see it in such flawless form as offered on this Blu-ray probably won't do the trick, but I still fear the day the movie ceases to have a hold over children of all ages. Though a film out of time, it's looking more and more of a time, too, and I hope the vaudeville humor and meandering pacing survive in an age when the average teen can't go 30 seconds without texting someone, let alone sit still to watch Ray Bolger dance like a marionette for no narrative purpose other than the joy of watching him go. I'm probably being silly—the smash success of Broadway's Wicked, especially among teenagers, is evidence enough of the resilience of Oz (more than an adaptation of Gregory Maguire's novel or an homage to L. Frank Baum's works, the musical really is a love letter to this movie). If nothing else, I'll be doing my part: my kids, when I have them, are going to know this movie by heart before they learn to talk.
Every few years, The Wizard of Oz is remastered to look better than ever, and every few years, I wind up buying it again. This time around, I think I might stay put; the new HD transfer shows a remarkable increase in depth of color, clarity, and detail when compared to the already excellent 2005 DVD. A bit of natural film grain reveals the film's age, but hardly detracts from a stunning image. The lossless 5.1 audio track is also very strong, expanding the sound field into the rears in a way that doesn't call undue attention to itself. Another plus—the original mono track is included for purists.
Proof enough that there's (almost) nothing new to say about this 70-year-old classic is the fact that the vast majority of the supplements (with one very welcome exception I'll get to in a bit) duplicate material found on the downright definitive 2005 special edition. David Krauss covered them with more depth and enthusiasm than I could even hope to muster in our review of that release, so I'll focus instead on what's new.
Completists warning: one feature didn't make it to the new edition—the Audio Vault jukebox of the film's recording sessions, featuring numerous takes of every song along with rehearsals and other vocal tests. The tactile extras differ as well—though the Blu-ray comes with its own pile of junk, including a watch, a handsome book, a budget sheet, and a reproduction of the original press kit, it lacks the reproduction of the souvenir program from the premiere and the postcard-sized reproductions of the original posters and publicity materials.
As for what's new, Disc 1 adds only karaoke sing-a-longs for all of the songs (very kid friendly) while Disc 2's additions are more extensive. Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman is a 30-minute profile of the man who leant his expertise to two troubled productions in a single (Oz and Gone With the Wind) and produced two ageless wonders. Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars is an 11-minute bit on the Munchkin actors receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and recalling their Oz experiences.
There are two additions to the collection of previous Oz productions—a more complete version of 1914's The Magical Cloak of Oz than the one found on the previous disc, and the newly-added The Patchwork Girl of Oz, also from 1914. Both silents were produced by L. Frank Baum himself, who also gets the bio-pic treatment in The Dreamer of Oz, a 1990 made-for-TV production starring the late John Ritter and Annette O'Toole as the author and his wife.
As for that exception I mentioned earlier, though only indirectly related to Oz, the best of the new extras is the mammoth six-hour documentary MGM: When the Lion Roared, a chronicle of the rise and decline of one of a legendary Hollywood movie studio. Spanning decades and largely charting the career of legendary producer Louis B. Mayer, this 1992 feature is narrated by Patrick Stewart and would typically run you around $20 on its own, mitigating the pain of this set's $85 price tag just a bit.
Speaking of which, if you just want the movie and the extras without the large box and the watch you'll never wear (I mean really), Target stores are stocking the three-disc set minus all the fluff for $40, packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.