The Wizard of Oz appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. On one hand, the transfer looked strong for a movie from 1939. On the other hand, given the movie’s stature, the image didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Some problems appeared during the film's first 20 and final three minutes. Those are the parts of Oz that were shot in sepiatone, whereas the remainder of the movie were filmed in Technicolor. Overall, the sepiatone scenes looked good, as they displayed decent sharpness and solid dark levels. The main problems came from the print itself. Quite a lot of grain could be seen during these segments, and a few other print flaws like speckles or nicks could also be viewed. The image vaguely flickered at times as well. The image remained
eminently viewable even at its worst, though.
The color segments showed improvements but suffered from some concerns of their own. The main problem stemmed from sharpness. Close-ups looked great, and many wider shots seemed fine as well. However, more than a few of the latter appeared moderately fuzzy and lacked great definition. Jagged edges weren’t a problem, but shimmering popped up – mostly due to Dorothy’s dress – and some mild edge enhancement was visible. Print flaws stayed minor, as only a few specks manifested themselves.
Colors were good but not spectacular. The movie seemed slightly dingy at times, as the hues lacked the vivacity I think they can portray. Don’t get me wrong – the tones were usually pretty lively. They simply looked a bit flatter than I’d expect. Blacks were reasonably dense, while shadows appeared visible and clear. This Oz earned a “B-” graded on a curve due to the movie’s age. It was fine for a movie made more than 65 years ago, but I believe the source has the potential to look much better.
The Wizard Of Oz has been remixed into a mediocre Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Although the packaging falsely claims otherwise, the DVD failed to include the original monaural mix, so I couldn't compare the two. In terms of soundfield, the new mix didn't tamper terribly with the basic track. The sound still stuck pretty closely to the center channel for the most part. Mainly it used the sides and rears for music, though some effects spread out as well. Check out the tornado sequences for some of the most prominent examples of that usage.
While the extra channels served the effects acceptably well – and even tossed out some stereo material in the rear – the music seemed less successful. The songs and score presented mushy imaging and never came across as distinctly defined. The music spread across the front and into the rears without clarity.
Quality seemed decent but pretty average for the era. Dialogue sounded thin and flat and also displayed some edginess and sibilance. Still, I found the speech to seem consistently intelligible. Effects showed lackluster qualities and poured on too much bass at times; the louder elements tended to overwhelm the mix. Excessive low-end was also an issue with the music, as the songs and score failed to demonstrate great definition. Highs were brittle while the bass was unnaturally dominant.
As with the picture quality, I may have come down too hard on the audio due to high expectations for a film of such high stature. That said, I’ve heard enough movies from this era to know that Oz could sound better. Really, I’d prefer a good restoration of the original mono track to this somewhat muddled 5.1 remix.
A slew of supplements show up on Oz. To get to most of the extras you have to click Follow the Road to Oz on the main menu; that area is subtitled "Special Features Menu". Conversely, one could press "Go Home to Kansas", also referred to as "Movie Features Menu". Another option just lets you "Play Movie".
Once in "Oz", it might look like just a few extras come on the DVD, as we only see three options. However, the second one - "The Emerald City" – provides the vast majority of the supplements. I've heard some grousing about this system, as some feel it's an obtuse way of detailing different areas. While it isn't perfectly straightforward, it's simple enough; never for a second was I confused about where to go or what to do. Sometimes DVD producers can be overly creative and give us aggravating menu systems - The Blair Witch Project comes to mind, and Crazy In Alabama's interface is tremendously problematic - but I thought this one worked fine; I don't understand why anyone would find it confusing.
In “Oz”, the first area highlighted is Characters of Oz, which offers brief but interesting details about the casting of all the parts. It also features two Easter Eggs. If you go to the first page of Glinda's info and click on the glowing ball above her wand, you can find four fun text pages of material about the casting of the Munchkins. Also, if you go to the first page of comments about the Wicked Witch, press "up", which will highlight an hourglass. Click on it and find four more text pages of data about the casting of the Winged Monkeys.
Next comes The Emerald City, which is where most of the action awaits. Until I say otherwise, you can assume everything I discuss can be found in "The Emerald City".
First up is The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making of a Movie
Classic. Produced by Jack Haley Jr., this 50-minute and 45-second program is hosted by Angela Lansbury and provides a very nice look at the project. The piece combines early 1990s interviews with older clips. We hear from Oz actors Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Jerry Maren, and Meinhardt Raabe plus director King Vidor, special effects supervisor Arnold Gillespie, producer Mervyn LeRoy, and composers Harold Arlen and EY Harburg. We also hear from actor Robert Young, Garland's kids Liza Minelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft, author’s grandson Robert A. Baum, and actor’s son John Lahr.
The program looks at the novel’s path to production, casting, the background of author L. Frank Baum and his Oz books, its adaptation and the script, the score and songs, directors, the exploits of the Munchkins, special effects, costumes, makeup and the rigors of the shoot, publicity, the film’s reception and awards, and its legacy. Though “Classic” definitely advocates the notion that Oz is a legend, it doesn’t make out the project to have been a rosy experience. Early on Jack Haley tells how everyone thinks it must have been delightful to make the flick and responds “like hell it was fun!” We learn many negatives attached to the shoot in this solid overview. It's an excellent and entertaining overview of the film's creation and its legacy.
A plethora of other supplements appear as well. One note before I detail them: many of these sections include brief text discussions of the material. I found these helpful as they explained what it was we were about to see. The tone could even get a little catty at times, such as when an early look for Dorothy referred to her as "Lolita Gale". Anyway, I didn't think it made sense to mention each section that includes some text notes; pretty much all of them do.
The trailers section offer five different clips. We find a teaser called "What Is Oz?" Apparently this one was used prior to the 1939 Hollywood engagement of the film, and it's a trippy little piece. Next come two ads from 1949. The first is a fairly traditional preview, but the second is much more unusual; it was aimed at the adult audience and tries - in many odd ways - to attract an older crowd. A "Children's Matinee" trailer from 1970 appears - which is as patronizing and condescending as the "adult" clip is odd - as does another reissue preview from 1988. One oddity about it: it's been letterboxed, which cropped part of the original theatrical image! I don't know if that's how it played during the reissue, though a listing on IMDB indicates that this seems to have been the case. How odd! (And am I the only one who finds this piece's barrage of reminders that everything's been "digitally remastered" amusing? Companies love to use those buzz words to tell us how terrific the new version must be, although the process doesn't necessarily connote improvement.)
The next section includes Outtakes and Deleted Scenes. The first of these is an extended version of the Scarecrow's "If I Only Had A Brain". Significant portions of his dance routine were cut and they're restored here. The result is a lengthy (four minutes, 40 seconds) but entertaining number. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the material; it integrates nicely with the original footage.
An alternate version of "If I Only Had A Heart" appears as well, this time performed by Buddy Ebsen. He had originally been cast as the Tin Woodman but had to drop out after getting ill from the make-up. This 80-second segment offers production shots of Ebsen as the TW accompanied by audio of his version of the song. It's an interesting look at an Oz that could've been.
A similar piece occurs in "Triumphant Return to the Emerald City". Like the "Heart" clip, we find audio of a song - a reprise of "Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead!" - plus production stills. This part goes for two minutes and is also quite fascinating.
One more time! "Over the Rainbow" uses the same synthesis of audio and production photos to show us a reprise of the classic song. This was to take place as Dorothy is imprisoned in the Witch's tower, and I have to say that it offers an amazing performance from Garland. If she's not really crying, it sure sounds like she is; her rendition is absolutely heart breaking, and a cold, nasty sucker like me doesn't usually feel that way. Maybe it wouldn't have worked so well with the image, but as it stands, I think they should have kept it in the film, though it might have been so upsetting that it could have too greatly disrupted the tone of the movie.
The final deleted scene shows the legendary "Jitterbug". Even Oz know-littles like myself had heard about this; it's a complete dance number cut from the film. This segment uses the usual audio/production picture method, though it also includes some cool home movies from songwriter Harold Arlen that show the rehearsals. It's unclear who's singing the song; it sounded like Bolger and Lahr were on it, but probably not Haley, and definitely not Garland.
We next move to the "Behind the Scenes" section. The first few of these include stillframe materials. Sketches and Storyboards presents 14 screens of information, with some concept drawings and basic storyboards. Costumes and Makeup Tests gives us 54 screens that entertainingly depict the evolution of the characters' appearances. (That's also the section that provides the most snotty comments as described earlier.) Portrait Gallery gives us 73 frames of publicity stills; I really enjoyed all of these, even the unretouched photo of Garland, which offers a neat look at a little studio trickery. Post Production Stills gives 10 more frames of work on the movie after shooting completed. Finally, Special Effects Stills gives us 29 screens of materials that relate to the effects; these are mainly documents that discuss the effects and different aspects of them, and were the least interesting aspect of this area.
More video materials follow. Harold Arlen Home Movies is exactly that: color shots taken by the songwriter on the set. We get three minutes and 45 seconds of this very cool film. Special Effects Sequences offers a moderately compelling look at the effects on their own without all the other factors in the final product. It goes for nine and a half minutes and is at least worth a look. Excerpts from the Texas Contest Winners 'Trailer' shows a newsreel-esque clip of some folks from - duh! - Texas who were allowed to check out the filming; the 90-second piece is a fun little glimpse at the past.
We also get an Excerpt from the 'Romance of Celluloid' Short, a four-minute clip that was used to show how electrical power was used in movies. The excerpt in question shows some behind the scenes shots of some Oz sets, and it's presented both in slow-motion to better allow viewing of the detail and at normal speed; the latter also offers the clip's narration. It's a neat piece of history. Tacked onto the end of this segment is the Loew's Cairo Trailer. That ad was used to promote some new Egyptian theaters and shows some unused bits of Oz.
Next we move to Oz History which mentions some film versions of the story that appeared before 1939. Excerpt from 1914 Silent Oz Film goes for 50 seconds and is tremendously odd. We also find an Excerpt from 1925 Silent Oz Film which goes for 50 seconds; it's more conventional than the bizarre 1914 snippet, and earns additional historical significance because it features Oliver Hardy. Finally, this area wraps with an Excerpt from 1933 Cartoon. This 105- second clip shows a not-too-well animated attempt to tell the Oz story; its importance can be seen from the fact it was the first to film the Kansas scenes in black and white and the Oz portions in color.
Oz Afterlife details various things that occurred after the film was finished. A collection of stills appears, from a variety of different sources: there are 32 "Original Publicity" shots, 14 photos from the movie's New York premiere, 11 pictures from its Hollywood premiere, nine from the 1940 Oscars ceremony, and 11 posters from foreign countries in "Oz Abroad".
More video materials appear here as well. In 1979, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley - then the only surviving main participants in Oz - were interviewed for a PBS special, and some excerpts are here. In an odd space-saving presentation, all three folks are onscreen at the same time; you switch audio channels to choose which one you want to hear. Hamilton talks the most and Haley the least; in total, all three clips together come to six minutes and ten seconds. This stuff is great fun and makes me eager to hear more. (Although I'm not wild about the creepy way in which the images of Haley and Bolger fade away from the screen when they finish speaking.)
Excerpts from the 1939 'Cavalcade of Academy Awards' offers a brief look at that newsreel-style program. We see about two minutes and 20 seconds of the piece, most of which shows the presentation of Garland's special Oscar.
Finally, this area ends with eight clips from Off to See the Wizard. Apparently this was an ABC TV show in 1967 that presented some old MGM family-oriented films. In addition, some cartoons were animated by Chuck Jones to come before commercials or to announce the next week's program. Eight of these appear; we get four "back to the show" entries, each of which last 30 seconds, and four "next week" clips, each of which run 20 seconds. This was another fun part of the DVD. (Keep an ear out to hear Mel Blanc in the mix, by the way.)
A slew of audio supplements appear in the "Audio Supplements" section. (There's truth in advertising for you!) In the Jukebox, a ton of
alternate takes of songs and other music-related piece can be found; all in all, there's more than three hours of audio in the "Jukebox". Some of this is fun for more casual fans - I particularly enjoyed the clips of Munchkin vocals that hadn't yet been altered - but most of it will most likely appeal mainly to die-hard Oz fans. The variations tend to be pretty small for the most part, so you have to be very well-acquainted with the film to notice the differences. Still, it's a great addition and one sure to be fascinating to some.
Another audio program called Good News of 1939 appears. This hour-long radio show is part of a running series from the period and it's a comedy/variety program hosted by Robert Young. We hear many of the main cast members - Garland, Bolger, Morgan and Lahr - perform songs and routines, and we also find pieces like Fanny Brice's "Baby Snooks" bit. It's kind of an odd little show, but it's fun to have as a historical piece.
Finally, the audio section includes Leo Is On the Air. This 12 minute program essentially acts as a long radio ad. It's a promotional piece and nothing more, but it's funny how interesting old bits like this are; it's cool to check out the advertising techniques of old-time Hollywood.
And that's where "The Emerald City" - and most of the supplements - ends. However, there's still a little more out there. The "Oz" section of the DVD concludes with Awards, a one-page text listing of the Oscars won by Oz. Hmm... Kind of a dull way to leave Oz, isn't it?
Well, back to "Kansas" we go, where we find some minor extras. Actually, all we get in "Kansas" - other than the usual film options like "Scene Selections" - is the inappropriately-named Cast and Crew section. I say it's mistitled because although I located some fine biographies for nine of the actors, I could not discover similar entries for any technical crew. Odd!
Every once in a while I acquire a DVD that interested me but didn't seem all that fascinating. The Wizard of Oz definitely falls in that category. It was a title that didn't seem all that compelling but I decided to give it a shot; hey, it was cheap, and it tossed in lots of supplements.
Who knew I'd find the movie so startlingly entertaining? I thought I knew The Wizard Of Oz, but I thought wrong. Sure, I knew the story well - anyone who watched it year after year as a kid does - but I had no idea I'd find it so enchanting and delightful as a bitter, hateful adult. Oz has endured over all these years for a reason: it's a completely fantastic movie.
The DVD offers decent picture and sound, but neither excels. However, the collection of supplemental features is absolutely terrific.
The Wizard of Oz is a DVD that absolutely every self-respecting – or disrespecting, for that matter - film fan should own.
To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of THE WIZARD OF OZ