THE WIZARD OF OZ : SPECIAL EDITION
Original 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) / Mono (French)
Movie: 101 minutes / Extras: 107 minutes
Jack Haley, Jr.
Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin and The Munchkins
· The restored feature with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack and the original theatrical mono soundtrack
· The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic documentary, hosted by Angela Lansbury
· Interviews with stars Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley
· Additional unseen trailers and extensive Audio Program of Original Recording Session Material and Radio Broadcasts with the entire cast, including Buddy Ebsen as the original Tin Man
· Portrait gallery and special effects stills
· Excerpts from previous verions of 'Oz': the 1914 and 1925 silent films and the 1933 cartoon version
· Original sketches and storyboards, shooting script, costume design and make-up screen tests
· Stills from the Hollywood premiere
· The making of the then state-of-the-art tornado
· Newsreel Excerpts
· Interactive Menus
Reviewer: Marc Flemming [Staff]
Sooner or later everyone grows up. While some get there quickly and others may take longer, just about all of us have encountered traditional childhood life-experiences from losing your Huggies to riding your first bicycle - from playing in your first ball game to eating lunch with the new kids on your first day of school. And almost all of us will see a movie about a man behind a curtain who calls himself The Wizard of Oz. Nothing better symbolizes the magic of childhood than a film about a young girl who journeys to a marvelously colorful far away land full of enchanted inhabitants both good and bad in nature and motive. It's a land full of individuals that mirror those we know when growing up and a land that reflects the positions those individuals hold in our heart. It's a land called Oz and like Dorothy - nearly all of us have been there in our own way.
Let's briefly settle back in our couches, grab our DVD remotes, venture safely to this world together for the next few moments, share the adventures of Oz, and even take a peek into the background origins of this timeless classic. It's bound to be an interesting day when long stretches of brick road look freshly painted in a deep yellow, scarecrows make conversation, horses take on chameleon characteristics, giant emerald kingdoms tower in the distance, a city of munchkins with colored hair rejoice on your behalf, and you know very well that just hours ago you were upset in desolate and storm ridden Kansas lacking all color in your cheeks. However, even though your bent on eventually returning home - that rather physically ill-favored Wicked Witch of the West, complete with a nasty temper, is hot on your trail and would presently seem to be the more urgent matter at hand. Along this path, strange (but somehow familiar) characters will join you in your quest in hopes of ultimately speaking with the great wizard - a being with the power to grant them key components to repair their weaknesses and quite possibly offer means of getting you home. Aside from knowing that this excursion will be teeming with trials and tribulations - the rest can only be endured by the sight and sound that define this mystical and magical realm as imagined by writer L. Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and seen through the eyes of Director Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind).
Warner Bros. latest DVD release not only takes you back to see this classic film, but delivers a wealth of information surrounding the production. Did you know that behind the scenes, things were quite chaotic on the set of Oz? In one such instance, Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch of the West) barely escaped being burned badly during one seemingly non-complex stunt - but, not without suffering burns on her face and arm. At one point during production, high level executives pushed for removal of the Somewhere Over the Rainbow scene (and nearly succeeded) feeling as though it was shameful to see one of their top-notch MGM contracted talents singing in a barnyard setting. Try to figure that one out There were troubles in Oz when it came to keeping their cast as well. Along the production time line, they would lose the originally cast Wicked Witch of the West when project coordinators would decide that an ugly (rather than beautiful) witch would be created for the film. They would also end up releasing the original actor to play the Tin Man after he spent a lengthy period of time recuperating from an illness caused by inhaling the aluminum powder in his makeup. Finally, the information contained in this disc will provide you with an answer to the age old question, "Where did the name 'Oz' come from anyway?"
In my eyes, The Wizard of Oz has never visually looked better on home video keeping in mind the age of the original film. The colors are superbly vibrant flowing from one to the next with excellent separation. Take a peek at the color changing horse in the Emerald City and you will see what I mean. The film is presented in in its original full screen aspect ratio preserving its original theatrical exhibition. Evidently, according to the box materials, the film was remastered for this disc. Unfortunately, I did not have the details to what extent the film was remastered for this DVD release. But, any changes that were made were done well offering a remarkable revitalization to a film celebrating its 60th birthday. For those of you waiting for a response regarding the comparison of this transfer to the original 1997 DVD release of The Wizard of Oz - you won't find one here, unfortunately, as we don't have the title immediately available to us.
The original mono soundtrack has undergone a facelift in restoration as well. Now, upon reading the marketing materials for this title it would appear that the original 'mono' version and a newly remastered 'Dolby Digital 5.1' soundtrack are available on this disc. That's true - but not the entire truth from what I am able to tell. The new 'Dolby Digital 5.1' track does indeed "surround" you in sound as all speakers seem to emanate a portion of the original soundtrack to some degree. This presentation of sound is not a catapult forward in surround functionality, however, as it will probably be somewhat difficult for some of you to determine if you're even listening to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. You may find yourself mistakenly thinking that you're listening to the mono track as I did. It will then come to your attention that you're unable to locate any type of features in the menu system that would allow you to choose between a 'mono' and '5.1' track. It comes down to this. The disc offers a 'Dolby Surround' track in English and the original 'mono' track in French. Upon fiendishly searching the disc for any other indication of the original mono track in English - I came up empty handed. As I said before, the new 'Dolby' track isn't far off from the original itself as there seems to be nearly no channel separation during the film (possibly some stereo effects here and there) - but, there is a much better feeling of envelopment by delivering the sound through the usage of all speakers.
Here's where this disc really stands out: Additional Features - and boy, there's a ton. Yet - there are some trouble issues that arise with this disc that are very much worth mentioning in light of the recent problems that were present with Warner's recent release of The Matrix. Upon looking at the box itself, there is nothing to indicate that this disc is anything special. The front and side of the box declare the film title alone - no "Special Edition" labeling of the kind at all. If you flip the box over, there you will find a listing of what to expect from this disc in the way of features and they'll definitely keep you busy. According to the disc stats - the extras will give you 107 minutes worth of busy down time. First out the door is the Angela Lansbury hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic running 50 minutes in length. The documentary comes with its own scene selection and is a must watch for any true fan of the film who should know the real problems that plagued this production. Also included are vintage silent film and cartoon clips of earlier The Wizard of Oz related works created even prior to the 1939 film release. Also included are clips from the 1967-1968 ABC-TV prime-time hour series, "Off to See the Wizard". There are also a number of trailers with the oldest being a silent teaser trailer asking, "What is Oz?" to the more recent 1998 trailer declaring its latest re-release to the theaters. You'll even find old radio commercials touting the film prior to its theatrical run. Complete notes on the characters and the people that played them abound amongst the features of this disc. The film's awards have been combined to fill a screen as well and elsewhere on the disc is an excerpt from the 1939 Academy Awards. Warner Bros. must have traveled deep within MGM's vaults to uncover a few outtake and deleted scenes including a notable scene of the Scarecrow performing a very entertaining song and dance number that ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. The film originally pushed the two hour envelope in length and this scene was one of the many that didn't make the final cut in an effort to shorten the film's running time. Behind-the-scenes materials such as sketches, storyboards, costume and make-up tests, portrait galleries, special effects and post production stills, special effect sequences, and even a crew member's behind-the-scenes home movies are all combined in collage of background information. The materials are excellently presented with captions explaining the nature of the images presented on the screen. Interviews from 1979 with actors Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley provide some of the most recent feedback from those that took part in the production. A feature called 'The Jukebox' offers eighteen audio excerpts from production materials such as rehearsal recordings, voice tests and audio takes from various sequences of the film. Finally, the numerous animated menu systems consist of color saturated images and fantastic transitions. The navigational procedure for getting through these menus is layed out somewhat differently from those we're used to moving around in. After the introductory sequence the main menu calls for three selections. These selections essentially allow you to play the movie or enter into one of the two larger sections of the disc. One section sports a Kansas/Tornado theme offering the configuration options of the disc (audio and subtitle tracks, etc.). The other section, the Land of Oz, is completely made up of Special Features. While it may not sound much different from the next disc, it certainly appears to be when navigating the system.
Unfortunately, troubles abound with this disc in the same way that they did for Warner's last DVD release of The Matrix. Our Sony DVD player was unable to get more than 2-3 levels deep into the menus before freezing the system (it would eventually time out and stop the disc unless the stop/power button was pressed). These features could be viewed only by selecting the necessary 'Title' tracks with the remote. Therefore, it can be assumed that the same group of DVD players experiencing problems with The Matrix will most likely run into hitches here as well (early Sony, Pioneer, Samsung, Panasonic, and Toshiba). But take note, most of these players can receive upgrades in firmware that may alleviate these problems. It is strongly recommended that those of you who can spare the time in getting your firmware upgraded, do so, as it looks to become the new way of things with Warner Bros. titles. They claim they take advantage of the system resources like no other titles have done before. With complex titles like the recent The Mummy: Collector's Edition from Universal working with little to no problems, I can't be too sure about the accuracy of such statements. As a small note to Hollywood+ decoder card/Realmagic users: We experienced an issue that involved the introductory menu sequence playing twice each and every time the menu is first accessed on the disc. We have not seen this occur on any additional titles other than The Matrix.
Let it be known that aside from these problem issues, the disc as a complete package goes above and beyond the call of duty in the deliverance of special materials and a quality presentation of a film that's well over the hill, yet surprisingly hiding its age. You would never guess that a film of six decades could look so twenty-something. If your VHS copy is looking a little washed-out or your laserdisc is making you feel a little old, a copy of this DVD is right up your alley. And if there's no place like home - rush on back as that is exactly where this DVD is intended to be seen.