The Wizard of Oz (1939) Special Edition

by | Nov 5, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Special Edition

Starring: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan
Directed by Victor Fleming & others
Studio: MGM/Warner Bros (2 DVDs)
Video: 4:3 full screen color & sepia tone B&W
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono, French Dolby Mono
Extras: New commentary by film historian John Fricke with cast, crew
and family; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz storybook, The Restoration of
Oz, We Haven’t Really Met Properly…(Gallery of supporting cast
profiles), Music-and-Effects-Only audio tracks, Documentaries on the
film’s creation and impact: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Making of a
Movie Classic, Memories of Oz TV Specials; All-New Extras: The Art of
Imagination: A Tribute to Oz; Because of the Wonderful Things It Does:
The Legacy of Oz; It’s a Twister! (The tornado tests); Off to See the
Wizard; Harold Arlen’s home movies; Outtakes and deleted scenes;
Vintage vault featurettes; Stills Gallery, Theatrical trailer Gallery,
Over 6 hours of audio-only material – including a Lux Radio Theater
enactment of Oz and a jukebox of original materials from the film’s
recording sessions, special promos for the film
Length of feature: 103 minutes
Rating: *****

Not to detract from the status of this classic as the finest family
movie ever to come out of Hollywood, there seems to be a rush amongst
the studios – now that DVD sales have proved so very profitable to them
– to reissue popular titles over and over again in various special
editions.  Even if the latest ballyhooed one is only very slightly
better in image or sound quality or extras than was the previous
release. I’m thinking perhaps some of the motivation is the impending
new hi-def DVD format, which will launch a whole new reissue program
for every production imaginable.  (Like inveigling audiophiles to
buy the same classical Miles Davis or Pink Floyd album over and over
again in different formats.)

 I found in comparing this new Warner release to the previous
Warner release I had, dated 1999, that the image quality was only very
slightly improved and the 5.1 soundtracks sounded identical. True, the
new release has a second disc full of extras, but some of the extras
promoted as “All-New” on it were also included in the 1999 DVD. The
earlier one even included a couple of the radio programs on Oz, but not
the complete Lux Radio Theater dramatization, which is fun to
hear.  The silent home movies shot on the set by composer Harold
Arlen are interesting too. The original featurette hosted by Angela
Landsbury is still to my mind the best of the extras.  In addition
to all this, there is a second brand new reissue called “A Collector’s
Edition,” and which contains a third DVD with among other things five
other long and short films created from Frank Baum’s Oz books. I wasn’t
privy to that set so will confine my remarks to the two-disc version.

It’s hard to believe that for some of us our introduction to Oz was via
a tiny black & white TV screen and horrible sound. The switch from
sepia toning to riotous color when Dorothy opens the door of her house
into the land of Oz was a landmark film experience for me and for many
other first-time viewers on the big theater screen. Ever since I have
been automatically attracted to any movie mixing color and B&W
images, no matter how poorly done. Consider how many lines from the
film have become part of our cultural vocabulary: for example – “Toto,
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” “…and your little dog too,”
“Surrender Dorothy,” “Pay no attention to that man behind the
curtain.”  This is the perfect family film to view in he family’s
home theater.  One child in one of the many featurettes on the
film in the extras boasts that she loves it so much she watches it
every day!

Most interesting to me in the extras were the deleted scenes of the
additional Scarecrow’s dance – bouncing off flexible fences – and the
wild dance caused by the “Jitterbug” sent by the evil witch. The
featurette on the restoration of the feature makes it appear as though
the previous DVDs had seriously deficient picture quality which has
only been corrected for the very first time with extensive and detailed
work in this new version. Not so. Actually that same restoration
feature is on the 1999 DVD. I believe any very slight improvement (I
noticed it more in the sepia-toned section than in the Technicolor) in
the new DVDs might be due to recent improvements in the telecine
equipment used to master DVDs for production.  Just as recent
enhancements to CD mastering and pressing have resulted in improved
44.1 CD sonics, so has the same thing has occurred with DVDs. 
(The next step is right around the corner – hi-def DVDs.) But the color
quality is terrific, and Oz’s images are made to order for the
overly-saturated Technicolor process. Actually, having the three
original B&W strips required for Technicolor made it much easier
for the restorers to fix all the scratches and dirt on the film. 
They merely identified that a suspicious speck was only on one of the
three strips and not on the others. That meant it had to be extraneous
dirt that could then be circled and removed with a Photoshop-type
“healing” process. The 5.1 surround remix is not spectacular spatially
– as one would expect, but it certainly adds a broadening and depth to
the familiar music.  An option of the original mono soundtrack is
provided, but who would want to choose that as an alternative if you at
least had stereo?

If this super-classic isn’t part of your DVD library already, any of
the Warner’s versions: whether one, two or three DVDs – would be a

– John Sunier

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