Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Expect an appealing presentation here.
For the most part, Wonka offered good definition. The source material sometimes could be a little soft, largely due to the photographic styles. This made some instances of lackluster definition inevitable, but the movie usually looked fine. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws were also essentially absent. Grain was a little heavy at times but not inappropriate, and otherwise, I saw a tiny speck or two but nothing more.
Wonka featured a wonderfully vibrant and vivid palette, and the disc reproduced the tones with fine boldness and accuracy. From Wonka’s purple garb to red clothes worn by Violet and Charlie to the green hair and orange faces of the Oomps, colors always appeared fantastically bright and distinctive. They really leapt off the screen, and they added a lot to the movie.
Black levels also seemed to be nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail usually looked appropriately heavy. A few shots were slightly thick, such as Charlie’s early visit outside the factory. That instance seemed to occur due to the use of day for night photography, and it still offered a clearer image than usual for that style of work. As a whole, the low-light situations were neatly visible and showed good balance. Ultimately, the image of Willy Wonka offered a fine visual experience.
The disc’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix took the movie’s original monaural stems and translated them into a modest but decent little soundfield. Much of the audio remained anchored to the center channel, and most effects usage seemed to feature modest ambience. On occasion, some discrete elements popped up in the side channels, but usually the effects seemed to stay with general atmosphere that lacked much delineation. On the other hand, music showed solid stereo separation, as the score and songs spread neatly across the forward spectrum.
Surround usage usually stuck with light reinforcement of the forward channels, and the score also dominated that side of the package. The music swelled nicely from the rear channels, but no distinct instrumentation or vocals came from back there. As for the effects, they seemed very minor for the most part, but a few exceptions existed. For example, the sound of the chocolate waterfall occasionally came from the right rear speaker during appropriate scenes. These gestures created a decent ambience, but they didn’t reinvent Wonka’s monaural wheel. Nonetheless, I was pleased with the extra breadth and dimension offered by the remix.
Audio quality occasionally showed its age, but overall I thought Wonka sounded good for a 40-year-old film. Dialogue seemed slightly thick at times, and some lines betrayed mild edginess. However, most of the speech came across as reasonably natural and distinct, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were also a bit on the thin side, and they lacked great prominence. Nonetheless, they showed no signs of distortion or other flaws, and they represented their objects with acceptable accuracy.
Music again became the strongest element of the mix, though it still betrayed its age to a degree. The score and songs offered surprisingly fine depth, as bass response sounded fairly warm and strong, which added a nice layer to the track. Highs were a bit flat and restricted, however. Those aspects still came across as reasonably crisp and distinct, but could come across as a little muted at times. Nonetheless, I thought Willy Wonka provided a perfectly solid soundtrack for an older film, and I was consistently pleased with the presentation.
How did this “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” compare with the 2009 Blu-ray? Both were identical – literally. The UCE simply repackages the 2009 Blu-ray.
That means the same extras – plus a few UCE exclusives. Obviously everything on Disc One also appeared on the 2009 release. First comes an audio commentary from all the “Wonka Kids”. We hear from all five of the movie’s main children, played by Peter Ostrum, Denise Nickerson, Michael Bollner, Julie Dawn Cole and Paris Themmen. They were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Whoever came up with the idea deserves a prize, for it’s a brilliant idea. The commentary can’t quite live up to the grandness of the concept, but it’s still a very fun and lively little experience.
Throughout the track, we learn a slew of fun little details about the making of the film. Because it concentrates on the kids, we don’t hear too much of the more “adult” aspects of creating the flick, so don’t expect nuts and bolts details about the project. However, we get a compelling perspective that covers lots of notes one wouldn’t normally expect to learn. The five provide entertaining minutiae about their experiences, and they offer a load of cute and winning anecdotes.
Despite the emphasis on the “kid’s-eye” view, we still get a fair amount of additional details. For example, we hear a few changes between the book and the film, and we get some reflections on other perspectives, such as the Oompa-Loompa who apparently thought he was really guiding the Wonkatania. The participants maintain a very warm and lively chemistry and they make the piece quite charming. Ultimately, I found the commentary to be fairly terrific and it should be strongly embraced by Wonka fans.
Also positive is a documentary called Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This 30-minute and 25-second program offers the usual combination of film clips, behind the scenes footage, and interview segments. All of the latter are new recordings, and we hear from director Mel Stuart, producer David L. Wolper, uncredited writer David Seltzer, and actors Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Denise Nickerson, Michael Bollner, Paris Themmen, Julie Dawn Cole, and Rusty Goffe. As a whole, this show was a little brief, but it offered a fun and informative experience.
In many ways, “Pure Imagination” resembled the audio commentary in that it focused mainly on anecdotes from the set. We learn some good details about the production’s genesis and other aspects of the movie’s creation, but most of it dealt with stories about the different occurrences. Even though all of the “Wonka Kids” reappear, very little information was repeated from the commentary, and the addition of Wilder was very positive; he added a lot of good notes about his involvement in the movie. I also enjoyed the ending reflections during which the “kids” told us what they did after Wonka.
The footage from the set was crudely shot and generally not all that great, though the DVD had a few decent elements. All of it was silent except for the most compelling snippet. That one showed a demo of a Wonka song. Overall, I wish “Pure Imagination” had been longer and more detailed, but it still offered an entertaining and useful piece.
Another video program provides an original 1971 Featurette. This mainly focused on the work of art director Harper Goff. It mixed film snippets and more of the same kind of shots from the set that appeared in “Pure Imagination”. In addition to comments from an unnamed narrator, voice-over statements came from Goff and author Roald Dahl. The four-minute piece didn’t offer much information, but it was a mildly interesting look at the film’s design nonetheless.
In addition to the film’s trailerSing-Along Wonka Songs for four of the film’s tunes: “I’ve Got the Golden Ticket”, “Pure Imagination”, “I Want It Now” and “Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do”. These simply showed the film footage with highlighted text along the bottom of the screen. Since the disc already included subtitles, this featured seemed to be a little pointless, but I suppose it didn’t hurt anything. At least it isolated the four tracks, and since they can be accessed together via the “Play All” option, you can easily create your own extended Wonka karaoke sequence.
Disc Two provides a DVD Copy of Wonka. This literally replicates the 2001 “30th Anniversary” release. It’s too bad the set doesn’t include a more recent transfer of the film for the bonus DVD, but it’s still a decent extra. Note that the DVD provides a photo gallery and “cast and crew” biographies. The latter were fun because they tossed in character bios as well; these are minor additions, but it’s good to have them back as part of a Wonka set.
On Disc Three, we get two featurettes. Mel Stuart’s Wonkavision goes for 13 minutes, 34 seconds and features more info from the director. He chats about how he came onto the project, his take on the material and his reaction to the prospect of musical numbers, and some other thoughts. The piece also tosses in a few comments from actors Peter Ostrum and Julie Dawn Cole as well as Stuart’s children – and bit-part actors – Madeline and Peter. This is a pleasant piece, but not the world’s most informative one. It’s likable but not especially memorable.
A World of Pure Imagination lasts 12 minutes, 32 seconds as it shows a period featurette. It’s in the same vein as the “vintage” piece on the Blu-ray, as we get the same anonymous narrator. It also includes comments from production designer Harper Goff, author Roald Dahl, and actor Gene Wilder. The piece looks at the novel and adaptation, songs, production design and sets, and cast and performances. Like the Disc One featurette, this one has a few interesting bits but not much of value. It existed to promote the movie; any informational value was coincidental.
As part of this 2011 “Ultimate Collector’s Edition”, we find a mix of non-disc-based materials. Pure Imagination delivers a “behind-the-scenes” book from Mel Stuart with Josh Young. This isn’t a unique bonus feature – you can buy it on its own – but it’s a very good one. The book delivers a wealth of useful Wonka info and many nice images. It’s possibly the best extra in this package.
14 pages of Wonka Production Correspondence appear. These present a replica of the letter Wonka sends to announce the contest, a sheet with casting possibilities for the title character, a handwritten note from Wilder to Stuart about costumes, typewritten letters from producer Stan Margulies to various cast and crew, a short note from producer David Wolper to Stuart, and a long memo from Stuart to Wolper about the production’s progress. Some of these are more intriguing than others, but they’re nice additions to the package and a lot of fun to see.
The package finishes with a Retro Tin. Inside the tin, you’ll get four scratch-n-sniff pencils and a scented eraser. These add a smidgen of value to the set – but not more than that. They’re cute but nothing special.
As a movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remains as fun and engaging as ever after almost 40 years. It’s one of the rare flicks that works equally well for adults and kids, and it holds up nicely through repeated viewings. In regard to the Blu-ray, it provides nice picture and audio along with some informative supplements. This is a fine release for a high-quality movie.
While I like this Ultimate Collector’s Edition, I don’t think that the various materials make it worth its nearly $65 list price. However, Warner Bros. has Wonka fans over a barrel, as it appears to be the only Blu-ray version of the film currently in print. As of October 13, 2011, a glimpse of Amazon and other Internet retailers reveals that the standard Blu-ray can be found only through secondary markets; it’s out of stock at the big sellers.
So what’s a Wonka fan to do? Try to get a cheap used copy of the Blu-ray, I guess, though the ones I saw offered tended to be somewhat pricey; they cost less than discounted copies of the UCE, but not by a ton. Fans could also wait for a potential cheaper single-disc release down the road – or just suck it up and splurge for the UCE. I think fans will enjoy the UCE, but I’m not happy that it offers the only readily available Blu-ray release of the movie.
To rate this film, visit the 30th Anniversary Edition review of WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY