Hmmm…I kinda remember the story, but only slightly..HELLO! If you don’t the magical story of Dorothy and her little dog too, you should be not be allowed to own a DVD player. I know it’s not an elitist format by any means, but you should really love movies to pay these prices. Anyway, if you have ever seen a movie, you should know this one. Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her little dog Toto are swept away from Kansas and transported to a magical realm called Oz. What’s even cooler? Oz is full color, and old Kansas was just sepia tones. I should ask Matt if Kansas is in color by now. Once there, she kills a witch, follows the yellow brick road, yadda yadda yadda. I mean no disrespect by the “yadda’s,” but why waste time on the story, you jokers already know it, right?
This movie looks and feels like a live action Disney animated feature to me. It’s like this, the basic story is tried and true, but the whole shootin’ match turns out weird as hell. Just like early Disney movies (Pinocchio, Fantasia), Wizard of Oz is considered a family movie (in fact AFI called Wizard of Oz THE best family film of all time), yet I get the heebie jeebies because it’s so damn weird. It’s unnerving at times! A house crushes a witch, and Dorothy ain’t too upset about it. A living tree throws apples at Dorothy and she ain’t upset. A damn scarecrow comes to life, and she ain’t upset about it. I know it’s a family movie and all, but man, that kind of business is scary! The Scarecrow still creeps me out, when he is hanging on that post…::shiver::. But, most people just enjoy it, and don’t worry about freaky parts, like when flying monkeys attack them. FLYING MONKEYS! And what’s worse, they are dressed like bell hops! I have watched this with young kids, and they don’t seem upset by it though, so maybe it’s just me.
At the core of this film is Judy Garland, who plays our innocent lead, and discovers Oz and it’s splendors along with us. She sparkles here, and is defined by her role, when everyone thinks of Garland, this is the role they conjure up. Dorothy is one of film’s most easily recognized faces, and this role is one of legend, a true classic. Garland is much older than the role she is playing, but it does not show too bad. I heard a rumor, probably true, that wardrobe had to tape down Garland’s breasts, to keep an “undeveloped” look for the character. And I mean really, that was a good idea, because that scarecrow was wily enough as it was, let alone if his straw eyes saw cleavage. Garland is also called upon to sing her lungs out in this flick, as well as act.
Now, as you may know from reading my other reviews, I’m not a big fan of musical numbers in films. That being said, I am a huge fan of musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar, Little Shop of Horrors), so Wizard of Oz is right down my alley. There are songs out the wazoo, most of them very good, but none bad. That’s suprising, because usually, there’s at least one clunker in movies somewhere. In fact, most of the numbers in Wizard are classics, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is the type of song they play over one of those montages, where they show Hollywood’s greatest moments on film. Needless to say, great stuff. The song that plays during the tornado is also very cool, and is used a million times in later films, as well as that “We’re Off To See The Wizard” song, if that is the title, I really don’t know. So don’t think just because it’s a musical that you’ll never watch it. Come on…it’s fun to sign along. And you can always synch up Dark Side Of The Moon and watch the fun!
Now, Garland is great, but one role makes a film not (I failed at a Yoda impersonation). You gotta have a nice supporting cast as well, and this picture has a great one. Frank Morgan plays two roles in the film, one as a fortune teller/snake oil salesman, and another as the great and powerful Oz himself. Morgan is great, and really brings the whole “man behind the curtain” thing to life. While the role does not call for much depth, Morgan adds a lot to the part, playing a true showman, both in Oz and home in Kansas. Taking on the creepy, at least in my mind, part of Scarecrow is Ray Bolger, who also plays a hired hand, Hunk, in Kansas. We don’t hear much from him in Kansas, but when in Oz, look out. He may be filled with straw, but man, this dude can shake a leg, cut a rug, you know…DANCE! He is excellent, and really plays the role like a fragile straw filled man, just like he should. Playing a farm hand, Zeke, and our Cowardly Lion is Bert Lahr. The Lion rules, and has a great voice, perfect for the role. While not as varied as Scarecrow, Lion’s role is pivotal, and Lahr is great. Our final farm hand, Hickory, is played by Jack Haley, who also plays my favorite of the three companions, Tin Man. Tin Man is awesome, and plus, he carries and ax! How can you go wrong here? Fleshing out the cast are Billie Burke (Glenda The Good Witch), Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West), and Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick (Uncle Henry and Auntie Em).
Ok, ok, I know some people analyze this movie all to hell, but I’m not gonna do that. Some movies just work, and that’s all you can say. Yeah, there are some elements in the film that could be studied and applied to real life, such as the “Free Silver” movement during the gold rush days (look it up), but really, the movie is just a movie. So enjoy it, for God’s sake! The movie is fun, the songs are good, and the acting is great! What more do you people want? Oh, you want a three disc collection filled with enough extras to choke a donkey? Well, now we have that and believe me, if there is an extra you want, this incredible triple disc set from Warner has it. Buy this set! Now! Go on! I’m serious!
Video: How does it look?
The Wizard of Oz is presented in full frame, as intended. This is the kind of transfer that makes your jaw drop, seriously. I thought the old disc looked awesome, but this transfer is a vast improvement and really makes the movie’s incredible visuals shine. I was amazed by the colors, which is a real statement, since I have seen this movie, on video, television, and in theaters, at least a hundred times. So when I say the colors were bolder and more vivid than ever, that is saying something. I also found contrast to be refined and well balanced, as black levels were stark throughout. The image is sharper, so more small details are visible and in truth, I saw no real drawbacks to mention. I am thrilled with this presentation to no end, so kudos to Warner to finally giving this classic the treatment it deserves.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a musical after all, so we need a solid audio track right? Well this release contains a very solid one in the form of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that handles all the audio without a hitch and delivers the finest sounding version of this film to date. While this is a terrific audio track some problems emerge and these issues stem from the fact that the movie is over sixty years old and you can only do so much with the source material. Since this is a newly minted surround track the audio lacks the punch and range of a true surround track, but it still sounds very good. As much as I wanted to give this the full points, I just couldn’t do it in this case. The surrounds come to life when the music starts and the songs come through very well, with no volume or separation issues at all. Aside from the musical numbers there is little surround use, but this is cool since there doesn’t really need to be. The dialogue sounds crisp and clean, with no problems at all. This is a superb audio track, but it lacks that punch needed to be considered a five out of five choice.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An exhaustive collection of supplements has been assembled for this release, so we’ll break it down disc by disc. The first disc features a music and sound effects only soundtrack, which is a nifty inclusion, as well as a more traditional alternate soundtrack, an audio commentary track. John Fricke, a historian, provides some comments between archival interviews with cast and crew members. I know some folks dislike this approach, but the editing is good and you’ll find some good insights. You can also browse the Oz storybook, watch a piece on the restoration process, and check out profiles of supporting characters. I really like the latter, as it gives more detail on some of the talented cast members.
More fun awaits on the second disc, which focuses on the production of the movie, as well as the cultural impact it would have. The Wonderful of Oz, the same documentary from the previous release returns, but it is a great piece and is a welcome inclusion. The piece runs about fifty minutes and is just a treasure trove of Oz trivia, well worth a look. The Art of Imagination clocks in at just under half an hour, with interviews with filmmakers, actors, and musicians, all of whom love and admire The Wizard of Oz. It is very cool to listen to their thoughts, as to how this magical movie inspired their own work. Memories of Oz is a well crafted retrospective piece, while The Legacy of Oz examines the lasting impact of Oz. You can also flip through an extensive collection of still photos, listen to a vault of audio treats like radio productions and an Oz jukebox, or check out mini cartoons and a trio of vintage promotional featurettes. But that’s not all, as you can also find composer Harold Arlen’s home movies, as well as six of the film’s theatrical trailers.
No, we’re not done yet. If you buy the Collector’s Edition, you get a third disc that has some incredible archival materials. The Man Behind the Curtain isn’t archival, but it is a wonderful half hour at the life of the man who created Oz, L. Frank Baum. The piece takes us through his life, before and after Oz, in interviews with his own family, as well as historians. This disc also houses several other cinematic incarnations of Oz, each of which is well worth a look. You’ll find the 1910 silent short The Wizard of Oz, the 1914 forty minute silent The Magic Cloak of Oz, the almost hour long silent His Majesty The Scarecrow of Oz, the 1925 feature length The Wizard of Oz, and the 1933 animated short The Wizard of Oz. To me, these represent a wonderful chance to see how Oz was looked at and interpreted by other filmmakers. In addition to these on disc supplements, the Collector’s Edition also includes reproductions of the premiere program, invitation, and ticket, as well as publicity photos and believe or not, other printed goodies. Wow.