Not since The Ultimate Oz laserdisc set in 1993 have we been given the means of collectively previewing such an overwhelming abundance of supplemental material surrounding the 1939 classical release of The Wizard of Oz. But, as most of us know - laserdisc collections of the kind sure didn't come cheap. In that day, an interested party would be looking to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. Certainly not for the frugal minded. It has not been until now that all of us can partake in the full wealth of information associated with this classic film for mere pennies on the dollar. The 60th anniversary special edition of The Wizard of Oz is finally here showing its full colors on a dual layered disc screaming with extras that will keep any of us busy for days. It's not often that DVD releases of this caliber come knocking on our door and therefore, we here at DCN jumped on the opportunity to speak with someone involved in the production of the disc just as soon as we were given the chance.
George Feltenstein is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Turner Entertainment Company and recently I spoke with him briefly on the subject of this latest DVD release. George acted as the producer behind this DVD production. This may cause moments of confusion in your otherwise clear understanding of studio involvement with this particular film. Let's quickly set the record straight. The Wizard of Oz was released originally by MGM in 1939. Warner Bros. released this recent version of 'Oz' to home video. George works ... for Turner Home Entertainment. Oddly confusing? Well, if you don't pay attention to current events in the film studio industry, it's highly likely you're the subject of a blank stare. What's the connection here? It's quite simple actually. Turner owns the rights to the pre-1986 MGM library. Under the same hierarchy, Turner and Warner Bros. Home Video are sister companies. Towards the beginning of this year, Turner was given the rights to begin distribution of these titles and what better than to release them through a related studio, i.e. Warner Bros. MGM in fact had no involvement in the production of this version of The Wizard of Oz. Feltenstein led the production with Ned Price supervising the transfer along with a host of other individuals at Warner Bros.
Having been closely involved with MGM in the past, Feltenstein admitted, "I was pleased to hear that Warner wanted me involved with the project," as it was obvious he was elated to see the film receive a royal treatment for DVD. Feltenstein explains, "Warner's philosophy is: Do it right the first time, so you don't have to do it again." For further clarification, if any of you are thinking back to the beginning days of DVD in 1997, one of the first titles to hit our shelves was a copy of The Wizard of Oz containing next to nothing in the way of supplements. Please note that this version of the film was released by MGM. Therefore, in terms of this DVD release containing more supplements than I've seen on any DVD to date and of great quality at that, Warner holds true to at least this philosophy.
Being ever curious, my desire to learn a bit of the history behind the DVD subject of our conversation led me to discover that the original film was not the first color feature film as is commonly believed. Technicolor's first feature film with music and sound effects would be accomplished during the MGM distributed production of the $325,000 The Viking in 1928. The first color film, a two-color one reeler entitled The Gulf Between, would arrive earlier in the year 1917. Director Victor Fleming would later take advantage of Technicolor's revolutionary services to render his visions in The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind beginning in 1939.
Feltenstein went on to explain the process involved in remastering the version of the film found on this DVD. If you were present at the re-release showing of The Wizard of Oz in 1998, you saw a similar remastered version of the film that is found on the new DVD. However, understand that the remastering process differs when delivering a High-Definition transfer to film than to tape. The result of supervisor Ned Price and his crew's work at Warner Bros. is a rendition of a classic film given an extreme face-lift in contrast and color saturation that has made the groups involved quite proud of what they have achieved.
When it came to sound, The Wizard of Oz bellowed its magical message monotonously for several decades via one channel in the home video environment. These early MGM films made use of multi-channel music through the utilization of multiple microphones. Part of the sound remastering process involved the manipulation of these sound tracks in the development of the Dolby Digital surround sound track used on this disc to provide better stereo spatiality. This doesn't mean that one should expect the witch to perform her stunts in 360 degrees of sound separation. According to Feltenstein, the track is designed to provide a better musical presence while the sound effects and dialogue remain unchanged in their original mono environment. For the first time ever, listeners will hear The Wizard of Oz as it could have been heard sixty years ago through the utilization of a multi-channel recording. For clarification, I asked Feltenstein to confirm some of the marketing information that has been presented with the DVD. According to Warner Bros. marketing, the original mono track (unmastered version) is available on the disc. Through my own research of the disc for our review, we were unable to locate this original audio track. The only thing coming close was the audio track dubbed over with French dialogue. Feltenstein admitted that he had heard similar assertions and concluded that if true, the result was a production error in getting the track on the disc as was previously planned.
Finally, since mentioning it at the beginning of this discussion, some of you may be interested in hearing if there are any differences between this DVD and The Ultimate Oz laserdisc edition released in 1993. In fact, there are interesting differences between the two. "The DVD contains every supplement that was found on the laserdisc edition - except one," Feltenstein confirmed. The DVD does not accommodate the audio commentary of the laserdisc. However, the DVD contains a host of supplements that were not included with the 1993 release. First and foremost, the DVD includes the new remastered transfer. Additionally, navigating the menu system of the disc will gain you access to new features such as the character/cast bios, more trailers and a one hour radio program that contains Judy Garland's first public performance of 'Over the Rainbow'. Imagine now that the cost of all this is only a quarter of what the laserdisc was. Through the production work of George Feltenstein and the crew he worked closely with, this disc is just another illustration of why DVD has been and will continue to be such a valuable commodity to the movie viewing consumer market.