The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Nine
Presidents Desk
Post Focus
DVD Playback
The Dead
10th Victim/Torso
The Wizard of Oz
ASC Close-Up
Test
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Blu-ray Edition
1.33:1 (High Definition 1080p)
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Warner Bros., $84.99




Few films have been seen as many times by as many people as the 1939 MGM musical The Wizard of Oz, but it is no exaggeration to say watching the new Warner Home Video “70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” Blu-Ray is like seeing the film for the first time. Working from the original camera negative, the technicians at Warner Bros scanned the footage at 8K resolution and then created a final “capture” master in 4K to use as the basis for this release; the result is every color is more vibrant than ever, and every detail, sharper and more evident. Without altering the grain structure of the original negative, the restoration team seemingly removed every scratch and speck of dirt to create a flawless high-definition transfer.  

Director of photography Harold Rosson, ASC, received the first of his five Academy Award nominations for the film’s vivid cinematography, and the range of his palette — from the dusty sepia tones of the framing scenes in Kansas to the strikingly bold greens, pinks and yellows of the Munchkinland sequence — is as stunning here as in a 35mm IB Technicolor print. The soundtrack is equally impressive. The original elements have been remastered in a 5.1 surround mix with clarity and power, giving scenes like the early tornado assault a newfound impact without betraying the essence of the original mix. That said, the original mono soundtrack is provided for purists as well, along with an isolated music and effects track.

The excellence of the transfer is matched — if not exceeded — by the caliber of extra features included on the two Blu-ray discs in the set. There are 16 hours of content, including every supplement from previous DVD and Laserdisc incarnations of Oz, as well as new material produced specifically for this release. The best of the new supplements is “Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman,” a half-hour documentary directed by Gary Leva that examines the career of Oz’s credited director. Richard Thorpe, George Cukor and King Vidor all had a hand in the direction as well. The documentary is a worthy companion to the many other featurettes in the package: a half-hour Turner Classic Movies documentary from 2001, “Memories of Oz,” which includes fond recollections by filmmaker John Waters and others; “The Wonderful World of Oz,” a 1990 50-minute television special on the movie’s making and reception; and “The Art of Imagination,” a half-hour piece in which contemporary filmmakers and musicians analyze Oz’s significance.  

The disc also includes a 25-minute documentary on the film’s ongoing impact and influence (“Because of the Wonderful Things it Does: The Legacy of Oz”) and a collection of brief profiles of the cast members (“We Haven’t Really Met Properly”). An illustrated version of L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, narrated by Angela Lansbury, and an 11-minute featurette documenting the restoration of the picture also are included. Sydney Pollack moderates an illuminating commentary track that includes everyone from Oz historian John Fricke and producer Mervyn LeRoy to wicked witch Margaret Hamilton, tin man Jack Haley and scarecrow Ray Bolger, among many others. One’s Oz education is further developed with a collection of five outtakes and deleted scenes introduced by Lansbury.   
 
In addition to the copious behind-the-scenes documentaries, the Blu-ray includes an abundance of vintage radio broadcasts and short subjects, including an hour-long radio show from 1939 promoting The Wizard of Oz and a 1950 Lux Radio Theater dramatization of the story featuring Judy Garland. The short films from the MGM library are delightful, particularly “Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power,” a 1938 promotional film that offers clips and making-of footage from numerous MGM productions — including a brief glimpse of original Oz director Richard Thorpe directing a blonde Garland! As if this were not enough, the package includes no fewer than six additional filmed adaptations of Baum’s Oz books: five silent versions released between 1910 and 1925 and a 1933 Technicolor cartoon that, like the later feature, presents Kansas in monochrome and Oz in color. Also included are a half-hour documentary on Oz creator L. Frank Baum and a feature-length TV movie, The Dreamer of Oz, in which John Ritter plays Baum; unfortunately, the transfer quality of the TV movie is abysmal, especially compared to most of the other material on the Blu-ray.

Want more? The set includes animated Oz television shorts by Chuck Jones, a new 10-minute featurette on the munchkins, six trailers from various theatrical releases of Oz and 18 stills galleries of sketches, storyboards, publicity photos and images from Thorpe’s Oz before Fleming replaced him. There are also eight minutes of special-effects-test footage from the tornado sequence, home movies taken by composer Harold Arlen, and a standard-definition DVD of the six-hour documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars. The hefty box that packages the DVDs also contains a collectible Wizard of Oz watch, reproductions of the original budget and 1939 promotional campaign book, and the 52-page book Behind the Curtain. Did I mention the digital copy included in case you want to keep a copy of The Wizard of Oz on your computer? Quite simply, this is the most generous edition of any single film ever released on any home video format, a pristine transfer of a classic film with every possible supplementary feature a fan could want. This will be the standard by which other Blu-ray releases will be judged for many years.

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