The Wizard of Oz appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not too many problems appeared in this transfer, it didn’t quite achieve the splendor one might expect.
The film's first 20 and final three minutes were shot in sepiatone, whereas the remainder of the movie was filmed in Technicolor. Overall, the sepiatone scenes looked good, as they displayed positive sharpness and solid dark levels. I noticed a couple of specks and one pesky hair during the movie’s conclusion; otherwise those segments were clean.
The color segments showed improvements but suffered from some concerns of their own. The main problem stemmed from sharpness. Close-ups looked nice, and many wider shots seemed fine as well. However, more than a few of the latter appeared moderately fuzzy and lacked great definition; I suspect this was an artifact of Technicolor film, but it still made the movie look less precise than we might like. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent for the most part; I saw maybe one or two specks and that was it.
Colors were excellent. The tones came across as quite lively and dynamic throughout the film. This was the kind of flick that could show off the Technicolor, and the transfer did so. Blacks were quite dense, while shadows appeared visible and clear. If not for the softness and print flaws, this would have been an “A” level image.
The Wizard Of Oz has been remixed into a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. In terms of soundfield, the new track didn't tamper terribly with the basic elements. 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. This wasn’t a real stereo mix for the score and songs. The track faked it in some ways but usually stayed with broad mono. This worked okay in that it wasn’t a distraction, but I can’t say it added anything to the experience; it simply spread the elements across the channels.
Quality seemed good for its era. Dialogue lacked tremendous clarity but was reasonably distinctive and concise. I noticed no edginess and found the speech to seem consistently intelligible. Effects showed pretty good definition, while bass response complemented things well; a few of the louder scenes offered nice low-end.
Music showed the track’s age the most clearly but remained acceptable. Some of the songs were noticeably tinny, and there wasn’t a lot of range to the score and tunes. Still, this was to be expected of material recorded in 1939, and I thought these elements came across fine for their age. I couldn’t rave about this remix, but it acted as a fairly natural extension of the original monaural material.
Speaking of which, this disc included that original mono mix. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the impression anyone put much effort into its restoration. I thought the mono track was more brittle and less full than the 5.1 mix, and it also demonstrated a lot of noise. Usually I prefer original audio to remixes, as they often come across as more accurate and natural. That wasn’t the case here. I’m not wild about the broadened soundfield of the 5.1 track, but it presented superior sound so it’s the one to pick.
How did this 2013 Blu-ray compare to the 2009 Blu-ray? Both seemed virtually identical. Although the 2013 disc changed from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD MA, I couldn’t detect any auditory changes, and the transfer appeared to be exactly the same as the old one. Given that the 2009 disc looked and sounded very good, I didn’t expect improvements.
Curious note: if the version release September 29, 2009 was a “70th Anniversary Edition”, how in the heck can the one that comes out October 1, 2013 be a “75th Anniversary Edition”? Do those extra two days constitute a whole added year?
The 2013 set mixes old and new extras. On Disc One, we open with an audio commentary. This combines a running, screen-specific chat from film historian John Fricke along with many archival clips. In that category, we get notes from actors Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, Margaret Hamilton and Jerry Maren, producer Mervyn LeRoy, makeup artist William Tuttle, assistant/extra Dona Massin, Barbara Freed-Saltman (daughter of associate producer Arthur Freed), John and Jane Lahr (kids of actor Bert Lahr), and Hamilton Meserve (Margaret Hamilton’s son).
Fricke dominates the chat. He covers pretty much everything you would want to know. Fricke talks about the adaptation of the story and contrasts the movie with the original book and other versions, casting and concerns in that area, the problems confronted by the actors, makeup and costumes, sets and visual design, songs and music, issues related to the directors, and many production notes. Fricke clearly knows his stuff, and he makes sure we get a fine education in all things Oz.
The archival interviews sprinkle between Fricke’s comments well. They let us know some behind the scenes elements and provide quite a few fun stories. Hamilton proves especially entertaining as she chats about her casting. All of this adds up to a terrific little commentary.
For another alternate audio experience, we can check out Oz with a music-and-effects track. It should come as no surprise that this eliminates the dialogue to leave solely score, songs, and effects. It presents these with monaural audio and offers an intriguing way to examine Oz.
Let loose your Karaoke side via a Sing-Along Track. This simply takes the movie’s standard audio and plops some lyrics on screen. The words light up at the right time to help us croon along with them. I have no use for this feature, but maybe someone will like it.
New to the 2013 disc, we get a documentary called The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In this one-hour, nine-minute, two-second show, we hear from Fricke, Ebsen, composers/lyricists Marc Shaiman and Stephen Schwartz, author’s great-great-grandson Robert A. Baum, film critic Michael Sragow, film historians Leonard Maltin and Sam Wasson, filmmakers William Friedkin and Rob Marshall, Bert Lahr’s son John, actors Ruth Duccini and Margaret Pelligrini, author William Wellman, Jr., costume designer Ruth Myers, makeup artist Charles H. Schram, cinematographer Peter Deming, visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, and sound designer Ben Burtt.
“Wonderful” examines the life of L. Frank Baum and how he created the book series, early film adaptations and the 1939 version’s path to the screen, music and songs. We also hear about cast and performances, developments/problems during the production, costumes and visual design, shooting Technicolor, various effects and audio, editing, initial screenings and the film’s reception.
After all these decades, there’s probably nothing left to say about Oz that’s not been said, so I doubt fans will find anything new from “Wonderful”. Nonetheless, it offers an enjoyable overview of the production. It touches on all the appropriate subjects and does so in a tight, involving manner. “Wonderful” brings us an enjoyable examination of the film.
Continuing on Disc One, we find The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook. In this charming 10-minute and 27-second feature, Angela Lansbury reads parts of the original L. Frank Baum book while we look at its illustrations. It offers a nice way to check out the story.
In We Haven’t Really Met Properly…, we get information about the movie’s primary supporting players. Taken via the “Play All” option, these last 21 minutes and 23 seconds. We learn more about actors Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick and Terry the dog. With nine participants packed into 21 minutes, we don’t get a lot of detail, but these snippets offer a decent overview of the various performers’ careers.
Some of the material in “Memories” also appears elsewhere, but we get plenty of fresh information. The show particularly emphasizes the Munchkins, so that adds a new perspective. I also like the notes about merchandizing and the glimpses of Oz props and costumes in other flicks. This turns into a useful little program.
In the Audio Jukebox, a ton of alternate takes of songs and other music-related piece can be found; all in all, there's more than four hours and 45 minutes 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.
Leo Is On the Air offers a 12-minute, 25-second program that 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.
Another audio program called Good News of 1939 appears. This one-hour, one-minute and one-second radio show was 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.
The audio ends with a 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast. In this one-hour, 48-second piece, we get a recreation of Oz. It features Garland and no other original cast members. The movie doesn’t translate well to radio, mainly because it was such a visual flick; here Garland has to describe much of what we see in the film. She also oversings “Over the Rainbow” something fierce and kills the original rendition’s lovely simplicity. The radio show is cool to hear for historical purposes but it doesn’t work well on its own.
As we move to the “Stills Galleries”, we get many more components. 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".
Oz on Broadway includes 17 shots related to that old production, while Pre-MGM offers 17 screens of book art and photos from pre-1939 films. Sketches and Storyboards presents 14 screens of information, with some concept drawings and basic storyboards. Costume and Makeup Tests gives us 54 screens that entertainingly depict the evolution of the characters' appearances. (That's also the section that provides the majority of the snotty comments I described earlier.) Richard Thorpe’s Oz provides 32 photos of scenes from that director’s early stabs at the production, while Buddy Ebsen has eight shots of that eventually-replaced actor as the Tin Man.
The 273 photos of Oz Comes to Life follow the characters on the Yellow Brick Road and in Oz along with some other components. Behind the Scenes provides seven simple candid shots of the participants. Portraits 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. Special Effects 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. Post Production Stills gives 10 more frames of work on the movie after shooting completed.
Deleted Scenes looks at 18 shots from cut sequences. The section goes ahead with 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. Finally, Oz Revivals includes seven advertising and merchandise shots.
Disc One ends with six different theatrical trailers. We find a teaser called "What Is Oz?" which was apparently used prior to the 1939 Hollywood engagement of the film, and it's a trippy little piece. The 1940 “Loew’s Cairo Theater Trailer” was used to promote some new Egyptian theaters and shows some unused bits of Oz.
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 1998. We end with a 2013 reissue trailer.
Even as a bitter, hateful adult, I continue to find The Wizard of Oz enchanting and delightful. Oz has endured over all these years for a reason: it's a fantastic movie. The Blu-ray looks and sounds very good, and it comes with a nice mix of bonus materials. The “75th Anniversary Edition” is a fine set, but owners of the 2009 Blu-ray don’t need to pick up this one.
To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of THE WIZARD OF OZ