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The Wizard of Oz(1939)
Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are swept away by a tornado from their home in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. They set off on a quest down a yellow brick road to see the Wizard, who can help them return home. Along the way, they are joined by others seeking the Wizard's help: a scarecrow, who wamts a brain; a Tin Man, who wants a heart; and a lion, who wants courage.
For more about The Wizard of Oz and the The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray release, see the The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on October 3, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Victor Fleming
Writers: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf, L. Frank Baum
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke
» See full cast & crew
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray Review
An equally stunning exclusive edition that sheds the Gift Set's baggage...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 3, 2009
"For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return, and to the Young in Heart, we dedicate this picture."
So begins director Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz, a timeless, truly magnificent classic that's as charming and endearing today as it was seventy years ago. Born in an age when soul and spirit were invested in every frame, when digital effects had yet to be conceived, when craftsmanship sat upon the same cinematic throne as creativity, the seemingly simplistic story of a young girl's quest to escape a strange land of talking animals and sneering creatures has emerged as one of the most indelible, recognizable, and untouchable films in history. From actress Judy Garland's unforgettable rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to her cries of joy upon returning home, Oz has few equals. From the bustling land of the Munchkins to the frightening kingdom of the Wicked Witch of the West, it boasts stirring artistry and design. From Dorothy's declaration that she isn't in Kansas anymore to her first, hushed utterance of "there's no place like home," it transcends age, capturing the imagination of anyone, young or old, lucky enough to set their eyes on the majesty of its yellow-brick road.
My affection for The Wizard of Oz traces back to my early childhood, when I was much too young to fully appreciate what was becoming one of the first major components in my cinematic conscious. I just knew it made me laugh; that its songs made me smile; that its monstrous villains gave me chills; that its heroes provided me with a thrilling adventure in a colorful world filled with magic and wonder. Is there anyone who isn't already familiar with the story? Based on L. Frank Baum's turn-of-the-century children's book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," Fleming's film tells the tale of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a young girl swept away by a tornado and deposited in the mysterious land of Oz, an enchanting kingdom ruled by an all-powerful wizard (Frank Morgan) and besieged by two evil witches. When Dorothy's tumbling house kills the Wicked Witch of the East, her sister -- the cruel Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) -- swears to exact revenge. But the young girl has other things to worry about. Namely getting home, a quest that requires her to travel across Oz, enter the fabled Emerald City, and seek help from the Wizard himself. Fortunately, Dorothy befriends a trio of bumbling warriors along the way: a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who doesn't have a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) who was never given a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who lacks courage.
Oz has been an international sensation for seventy years now. During that time, it's become a part of global culture, influenced modern filmmaking as we know it, and solidified its place amongst the greatest films of all time. Even so, I didn't realize how timeless it had really become until I picked my son up from pre-school on a day when his teachers' had popped in The Wizard of Oz while the kids were eating lunch. Knowing his love for Pixar's finest, his affinity for comicbook flicks, and how much he enjoys watching the latest action-oriented, animated jaw-dropper, I was shocked by his sudden obsession with a 1939 Technicolor musical. Be it the songs, the characters, the world, or the exceedingly accessible storyline, he wanted to watch it again in its entirety. And again... and again... and again. My apologies if it seems like I'm drifting off target, but his instant attachment to Dorothy and her companions' story -- particularly in light of the faster, flashier, more expensive productions available to him -- is possibly the most telling testament I can offer about the still-palpable power of the film. Watching it with him is just as fulfilling. Chalk it up to nostalgia, delight, or respect, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Oz some twenty-five years after it first grabbed hold of my brain.
Modern cinelitists may scoff at its idealism and era-specific performances, cynics may balk at its rosy-cheeked exclamations and bursts of song, but The Wizard of Oz defies generation gaps, so much so that it's capable of surviving the harsh terrain of the 21st Century. In 1939, its clash between good and evil -- at a time when the world was recovering from one World War and gearing up for another, when the Great Depression was still ravaging the masses, when hope was a fleeting commodity -- offered a brief respite to weary peoples. Its visuals widened eyes and captured imaginations. Its songs left many in tears and many more with a sense that dreams just might come true. It's not so different today. In an age of widespread political and economic upheaval, The Wizard of Oz doesn't register as a naive relic of childhood or a featherweight fantasy. It's a reminder that anti-heroes, gore, pulse-pounding soundtracks, and grim-n-gritty cinematography don't explore the human condition as readily as cinephiles have convinced themselves such things do. Those skipping this Technicolor marvel in favor of bigger, badder fare (releases featuring three-clawed muties, battery-licking action junkies, or time-traveling assassins) will miss the opportunity to watch a film that has something to say; a film whose message is as relevant and legitimate in 2009 and is it was in 1939.
It may sound like hyperbole -- like the skewed ramblings of a nostalgic thirtysomething looking to reconnect with his childhood -- but the film's legacy and lasting appeal speaks for itself. Don't write off this Technicolor masterpiece as a cinematic artifact. Don't pass it by for lesser drivel lining the shelves. Don't assume it can't reach you in your older years or captivate your children in their innocence. The Wizard of Oz is a true Hollywood treasure; a film that still has the power to move, inspire, and affect the most hardened heart or pessimistic scowl.
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray, Video Quality
What!? Heresy! A 4.5 for a transfer most others are declaring perfect? Bah! Surely a marvelous, faithful, meticulous restoration -- a restoration that brings a beloved seventy-year-old classic to life like never before -- deserves the highest score possible!
With that out of our collective system, let's begin. The Wizard of Oz has indeed been blessed with a staggering restoration; one that has renewed its aging frames, reinvigorated its fading colors, and preserved the integrity of its image at every turn. Working from three original Technicolor negatives, scanning each one at the highest resolution possible, and lovingly recoloring and retouching the film, Warner Home Video has produced one of the finest, most impressive restorations in the history of cinema. Thankfully, the Blu-ray edition reaps the rewards with a striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer that boasts exquisite colors, astounding clarity, and crisper details than Oz fanatics have ever seen. The palette oozes primary brilliance, black levels are deep and absorbing, and skintones are flawless (any rosy cheeks you see are a product of the actors' make-up, not some strange technical flaw). Moreover, contrast is bright and vivid, imbuing each scene with convincing depth and dimensionality, edges are refined, and textures are revealing. A field of tiny flowers, individual strands of straw, costume seams, distant Munchkins, the tight pattern on Dorothy's dress, the intricacies of Billie Burke's gown, Garland's freckles, craters on the Witch's nose, wrinkles on the Wizard's face, Toto's hair... I could go on and on. Suffice to say, this is, without a doubt, the definitive home video transfer of Oz.
But that's not all. A moderate veneer of grain permeates every frame, granting the picture a filmic appearance purists will be overjoyed to see in tact. I'm pleased to report that I didn't detect a hint -- not a sliver, shred, or slather -- of noise reduction. As it stands, any instance of softness should be attributed to the original source, not the Blu-ray transfer or the restoration team's efforts, digital scanning, or touch-ups. In fact, dear readers, I didn't encounter ringing, banding, aliasing, smearing, or any other debilitating digital nonsense. And edge enhancement? It either hasn't been applied or has been used so judiciously that its presence is nearly untraceable. The entire transfer showcases the quality of Warner's restoration, as well as the immense work that went into creating the go-to presentation of the film. Granted, as technology advances over the coming decades, the studio's 20+ terabyte scans will yield even greater transfers with more detail than a 1080p presentation could ever possibly reproduce, but I doubt anyone will complain about the limits of our current high definition format when they could spend their time soaking in the beauty of Oz.
Brace yourselves. There are a few minor issues; issues most viewers will quickly shrug off, brush aside, or overlook altogether. For starters, lingering print damage is visible in some shots. While the damage is infrequent and quite negligible, vertical lines, scratches, blemishes, contrast wavering, and spots still flicker across the screen from time to time. Moreover, faint (I stress faint) artifacting mingles with the grain in several scenes. Eagle-eyed videophiles will spot some in the film's sepia sequences, during Dorothy's initial approach to Emerald City, and in the gray skies surrounding the Witch's castle. Finally, there are moments, particularly in the third act, in which the Witch's clothing fuses with the surrounding shadows; her cloak and hat become one with the darkness. Not worth mentioning? Perhaps. However, had Warner relocated the first disc's special features -- nine hours of standard definition video documentaries, audio-only materials, and other bonus content -- more disc space could have been dedicated to the film itself. Would it have resulted in a perceptible difference? Would it have made the transfer the slightest bit cleaner? Alas, I'm unqualified to answer, but I couldn't help but wonder each time I noticed a fleeting compression anomaly.
Even so, such silly shortcomings barely register in the grand scheme of things. The Wizard of Oz looks undeniably fantastic. It not only raises the bar for catalog transfers, it rewards enthusiasts and filmfans alike with a near-perfect presentation of a stirring cinematic legend.
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Though it doesn't provide the instant gratification of the film's video restoration or its subsequent Blu-ray transfer, Warner's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track effectively demonstrates the studio's craftsmanship, care, and commitment to all aspects of the film's presentation. Dialogue is warm and intelligible, preserving the distinct tonal personality of its 1939 recordings while giving each voice a fresh, 21st Century upgrade. Likewise, every playful sound effect has been granted renewed fervor, prioritization is impeccable, and each song dances across the soundfield as if it was recorded yesterday. Lyrics and orchestration wax and wane in perfect harmony, and the various score pieces and trumpeted fanfares are sharp and resonant. It helps that rousing LFE output bolsters each musical cue, every thoom of the Wizard's thundering performances, and all of the Witch's eruptions and explosions. The rear speakers are subdued, paying unspoken respect to the film's original audio mix, but still involve themselves in everything from the music to the swirling winds of Dorothy's tornado. Fire crackles with unexpected intensity, a menacing forest rustles with immersive activity, and scrambling monkeys smoothly scamper from channel to channel. As an added bonus, the film's original mono track is available via a 192kbps Dolby Digital mix. It's a bit of a lossy letdown (even for a mono presentation), but purists and completists will no doubt appreciate its inclusion.
Could The Wizard of Oz stand its ground in a sonic tussle with a modern Blu-ray blockbuster? Of course not. The very nature of the seventy-year-old production would limit the impact of any lossless track. However, as catalog classics go, it doesn't sound much better than The Wizard of Oz, particularly when you factor its age into the evaluation. I doubt anyone, no matter their disposition, will be disappointed with the results.
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 3-disc Emerald Edition of The Wizard of Oz drops the excess baggage of Warner's Ultimate Collector's Edition -- the oversized gift box, campaign book replica, budget sheet, hardbound book, themed watch, and Digital Copy disc -- and simply presents fans with the set's main features. Moreover, unlike the single-disc WalMart exclusive, this 3-disc set retains disc 2's short films and documentaries, and a third disc that boasts a mammoth six-hour overview of the rise and subsequent decline of MGM. For my money, this is the edition to own. Considering the contents of my Gift Set are just sitting in the closet, this streamlined release is more practical, appealing and, above all else, cheaper.
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What more can I say? I was blown away by the Blu-ray edition of The Wizard of Oz; so much so that I'll be purchasing the collector's set for several family members this Christmas season. It offers an acclaimed '30s classic, a masterful restoration, a near-perfect video transfer, an equally impressive TrueHD audio track, and a slew of supplemental features, additional full-length films, and mesmerizing documentaries. This 3-disc edition doesn't include the Ultimate Collector's gift set pack-in items, but it should appeal to anyone who isn't interested in such trivial bonuses. Regardless of which edition of The Wizard of Oz you choose, this gorgeous restoration deserves to find its way into the hands of every fan, young or old. Well done, Warner... well done.
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