I’m a Kansas man. I graduated from Kansas State University. I lived in both Kansas City and Wichita and both of my parents hail from Kansas to boot. Suffice it to say that I’ve heard every “Dorothy” joke there is and then some. Oddly enough, though, I’ve never been in a tornado and let alone even seen one. Sure I’ve been in warnings and tornadoes have been nearby but, I missed out on one of mother nature’s most interesting disasters. Regardless, this isn’t “The Discovery Channel” and I’ll leave all talk of tornadoes relegated to the movie in question. And speaking of the movie in question, everyone should take 100 minutes out of their lives to see “The Wizard of Oz”. It’s unquestionably one of my all-time favorites and literally a movie that every single person with access to a TV and/or movie theater should see. It’s hard to believe that it’s now been 70 years since the movie first came out in theaters and though not the first movie to sport color, arguably the one that everyone remembers. Add to that the year 1939 was widely regarded as one of the better years for films with movies like “Gone With the Wind”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Wuthering Heights” and this little gem all being released. “The Wizard of Oz” is truly one of the great studio movies and it made a young Judy Garland a star.
For the three people out there that haven’t seen the film, I’ll do a breakdown of the plot. I will say that the movie is so ingratiated in our culture, you’ve undoubtedly heard of some of the lines even if you’ve never seen the film:
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“There’s no place like home.”
“Follow the yellow brick road.”
And many more.
Dorothy (Judy Garland) is a schoolgirl living with her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and three farmhands (we’ll see more of them later). She’s swept away in a tornado and awakens in a wonderful and magic land. She’s also managed to kill the Wicked Witch of the East as her house landed on her. Dorothy and her dog, Toto, want nothing more than to get home but they’ve no idea how. Glenda (aka “The Good Witch of of the North”) points Dorothy in the direction telling her to follow the yellow brick road. By doing this, she’ll eventually find the Wizard who will be able to send her back to Kansas. Now that’s just the beginning as along the way Dorothy meets up with three comical characters who look strangely familiar to her. A Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who longs for a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) who wishes he had a heart and a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr) who desires courage. Together the four of them (five if you count Toto) journey along the yellow brick road meeting pitfalls along the way. Will Dorothy and the gang make their way to Oz and find a way back home or will they be stranded forever?
The movie was adapted from L. Frank Baum’s novel of the same name, but unquestionably the movie far transcends the book. The story is known to most anyone over the age of three or above and the film is perhaps one of the most fun musicals to watch (though I still prefer “Singin’ in the Rain”). Chances are that “The Wizard of Oz” will still be a classic 70 years from now and hopefully it will continue to entertain generations of movie-goers to come. This is a movie that I still watch at least once a year and at least one of the networks airs it as well. The story of Dorothy and Toto is about as timeless as it gets and even though you know what will happen at the end, the journey is certainly worth it.
Video: How does it look?
Odds are that “The Wizard of Oz” has had more home video releases than most other movies. I’ve seen it on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and now for the first time – Blu-ray. Amazing. To look at this 1.33: 1 VC-1 HD transfer you’d think this was a brand new release. The colors are among the most vibrant I’ve ever seen and even though there are a few artifacts noticeable, the overall image far outweighs the miniscule errors that exist in this new transfer. The opening of the film is shot in a sepia tone with brown hues, but the real treat is seeing the colors leap off the screen in the land of Oz. From the shiny metal exterior of the tin man to the emerald green of the castle of Oz (and everything in between), the transfer exudes everything that’s right about high definition. I’ve also read some comments and evidently some folks don’t know that this movie came out about 15 years before the advent of widescreen movies – the first being “The Robe” with Richard Burton. So when you pop this Blu-ray in your player, it won’t fill up the entire 16:9 screen. There will be black bars on the sides. I know this sounds a bit rudimentary, but I have to understand that not everyone out there is as familiar with the history of film as I am. In a nutshell, this transfer is about as glorious as they come.
Audio: How does it sound?
As impressive as the image is, the audio is right there with it. The film, by and large, is a musical with such classics as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “If I Only Had a Brain”. This Dolby TrueHD soundtrack gives an unparalleled depth that I’ve not heard in any previous release. The case with movies of this age is that the dialogue will sound hollow and artificial and this really isn’t an issue here. Granted this is probably one of the most coveted titles in Warner’s catalog and they have the resources (cash) to flush out such inadequacies, but it’s money well-spent. The soundtrack sound rich and crisp that’s strong, yet not in the way that some of our modern soundtracks are. For a movie that’s 70 years old, it’s never sounded better.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Warner has released this in a few different formats for Blu-ray and I’m reviewing the most basic version here. For true fans of the film there’s the Ultimate Collector’s Edition featuring three discs, a watch, a book and much, much more. However if you still want to see and hear the movie in the best possible atmosphere, you need not spent the whopping $75 for the UCE. This single disc edition sports the same audio and video and is essentially “Disc 1” of the Ultimate Collector’s Edition. We start off with a commentary of the film by historian John Fricke. If memory serves, this is the same commentary on the previous three disc edition that came out on DVD a few years back. Fricke is a foremost authority on the film and Judy Garland in general and his comments on the film do offer some insight into the production and the long-lasting effects of it. It’s a great track and certainly worthy of a listen for any true fan. More interesting (to me, anyway) is the included “Restoration Featurette” and though it doesn’t detail the work involved for the Blu-ray (it covers the 2005 DVD edition) we still get an idea for all that’s involved in taking a masterpiece and making it look its best. You’ll sure appreciate exactly how good the film looks once you’ve seen this. Two lesser featurettes are an illustrated storybook and a look at the supporting cast as well as a sing along feature. For those that just want to enjoy the sights and sounds of this timeless classic, this is for you. If you want that plus a whole lot more on the supplemental front, there’s the Ultimate Collector’s Edition. No matter which route you go, seeing “The Wizard of Oz” in HD is perhaps the next best thing to being there.