3D Blu-ray Review: The Wizard of Oz (75th Anniversary Edition)

In Blu-Ray’s by Rebecca WrightLeave a Comment

I have no issue with the current explosion in 3D films, some of them are really good, some not so much, but I appreciate the ability to see several titles in either 3D or 2D. However, I have reservations about going back and converting popular titles to 3D. While it was done very successfully with Titanic, when I heard that Warner Bros. was working on a 3D conversion of The Wizard of Oz for its 75th anniversary, my first reaction was to cringe. How could they mess with such a classic? Would they use a bunch of gimmicks? Once I got over my initial reaction, I got interested. One of the studios biggest cash cows, you would expect that Warner would handle the job with care. Now having seen The Wizard of Oz in 3D, I can safely say that the engineers have treated the film with respect, and simply provided fans with another prism through which to view the magical Land of Oz.

Dorothy Oz 75I first saw The Wizard of Oz when I was around six years old. I’ve seen it countless times in the last thirty years, on the big screen at film festivals, television broadcasts, home video and various DVD incarnations. Despite that, watching the film in 3D was in some ways, like discovering the film all over again. I’ll cover in more detail what makes The Wizard of Oz look so impressive on 3D Blu-ray shortly, but first, a little background on the film itself.

Now seen by many as one of the greatest films of all time, The Wizard of Oz wasn’t considered a major success upon its release on August 15, 1939, due to the films large budget and fairly modest box office return. But from 1959 to 1991, The Wizard of Oz was an annual television tradition in the United States, and through these showings, it has become one of the most famous films ever made. Of course, with the rise of cable and home theater capabilities Oz enthusiasts can watch the film whenever they please.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the basic story: Dorothy (Judy Garland), lives on a farm in Kansas with her Auntie Em (Clara Bandick), Uncle Henry (Charles Grapewin) and her beloved dog Toto. After attempting to run away in order to keep Toto safe from the wrath of Miss Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton), Dorothy is caught in a tornado while attempting to return home. When she finally does arrive at her house, everyone else has gone into the underground shelter, forcing Dorothy and Toto to ride out the storm alone. As they cower in the young girls bedroom, the gusting winds unhinge a window from its place. Dorothy is knocked-out, though hallucinates that she is still awake, seeing all the people she knows passing by her window as her house is carried through the air by the tornado.

Once the twister stops, Dorothy carries Toto to the door and they step outside to discover they’re no longer in Kansas. The world outside looks like a vivid dream state; Dorothy is soon greeted by Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke). Glinda informs her that the crashing of her house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and she is honorably praised for the act. However, Dorothy merely wants to return home, and after a brief celebration with the Munchkins, Glinda tells her that her best bet would be to ask for the way home from the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) who lives in the Emerald City. Following the yellow brick road, Dorothy embarks on her journey to the Emerald City, along the way she makes three new friends; the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr); they all join her on a journey that is complicated by the unwelcome appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton).

It’s fairly easy to see why The Wizard of Oz continues to entertain movie fans. Made at a time when studios actively interested in breaking ground and experimenting with three strip Technicolor. Most films in 1939 were still in black and white, so the gimmick of beginning in black and white then shifting to Technicolor was very effective. Most importantly, the bevy of writers who worked on the screenplay weren’t afraid to take the original book by L. Frank Baum and add a big dose of originality and imagination to the project. They hired all the midgets they could find, populated Oz with all sorts of weird props, added songs to the story and believed audiences would react positively. Nearly 75 years after the film’s release, viewers still get caught up in Dorothy and her magical journey to Oz, no matter how many times they watch it.

Scanned in 8K for the 3D conversion, fans will naturally be asking if this 3D release actually looks better than the stellar Blu-ray released in 2009. Most won’t notice much of a difference, though some very minor print damage issues have been corrected. Again, these are all things but the most discerning eye will likely fail to notice. As to the 3D, I was pleasantly surprised. We all know that the backdrops are painted, but here they’re given nice depth and dimensionality. The hills have dimension. The fields of poppies are stunning, and when we’re traveling down the yellow brick road true depth is achieved. There are no gimmicks used throughout. What this conversion has done is given a sense of realism to an environment that we knew was fake from the start. For me, it just added a little bit to the wonder of L. Frank Baum’s tale. Great stuff.

Seemingly identical to its 2009 Dolby TrueHD 5.1 counterpart, Warner’s new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track handles the film beautifully. Dialogue is warm and intelligible, preserving the distinct tonal personality of its 1939 recordings while giving each voice a fresh, 21st Century upgrade. Each song dances across the soundfield as if it was recorded yesterday. Lyrics and orchestration ebb and flow in perfect harmony, and the various score pieces are sharp and resonant. It helps that rousing LFE output bolsters each musical cue, every boom of the Wizard’s thundering performances, and all of the Witch’s eruptions and explosions. The rear speakers are subdued, paying respect to the film’s original audio mix, but still involve themselves in everything from the music to the swirling winds of Dorothy’s tornado. Fire crackles with unexpected intensity, a menacing forest rustles with immersive activity, and scrambling monkeys smoothly scamper from channel to channel.

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish subtitles are included.

New and Exclusive Special Features:

  • The Making of The Wizard of Oz (HD, 69:02) Actor Martin Sheen narrates this new documentary, hitting on the film’s legacy and moving on to discuss the development and production of the movie. Topics include the problems and eventual success of Oz author  contributions to the film; the long process of adapting Baum’s story and putting together a screenplay and musical numbers; the studios attempts to cast Shirley Temple; the casting of Judy Garland and more. Well worth a watch for fans of the film.

Previously Released Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary: The late Sydney Pollack hosts this extensive, informative commentary track featuring Oz historian and author John Fricke, as well as rare interview clips with associate producer/writer Arthur Freed’s daughter, Barbara Freed-Saltzman; actress Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) and her son Hamilton Meserve; actor Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow); actor Jack Haley (the Tin Man); John and Jane Lahr (children of actor Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion); uncredited co-director Mervyn LeRoy; assistant choreographer Dona Massin (who worked directly under Bobby Connolly); assistant make-up artist William Tuttle; performer Buddy Ebsen; and Munchkin actor Jerry Maren. While Fricke sounds as if he’s narrating a documentary, he lends focus to a track that might otherwise be overwhelming. The real meat of the track lies in its interview clips. Nostalgic reflections, candid anecdotes (particularly from Hamilton and her co-actors), and amusing asides. The audio quality of each clip varies, but the inconsistencies are never a distraction. Each voice remains clear and intelligible.
  • Music and Effects Track: This option allows users to watch the film, sans dialogue, with a one-channel Dolby Digital audio mix (48kHz/192kbps).
  • Original Mono Track: The film’s original mono track. The downside? It’s only available as a stunted Dolby Digital mix (48kHz/192kbps).
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook (SD, 10:27) Angela Lansbury reads parts of the original L. Frank Baum book while we look at its illustrations.
  • We Haven’t Really Met Properly (SD, 21:23) A series of two to three minute actor biographies (narrated by Lansbury) for Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz/Professor Marvel), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow/Hunk), Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion/Zeke), Jack Haley (the Tin Man/Hickory), Billie Burke (Glenda, the Good Witch), Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West/Miss Gulch), Charley Grapewin (Uncle Henry), Clara Blandick (Auntie Em), and Terry (Toto). Watch one at a time, or get them all in one chunk with a “Play All” option.
  • Sing Along (HD) A simple subtitle feature that provides users lyrics and timing cues to sing along with a selection of songs from the film. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “Munchkinland Medley,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had the Nerve/We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “Optimistic Voices,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” and “If I Were King of the Forest.”
  • Jukebox (Audio, 70:45) Original recordings and outtakes of “Over the Rainbow”, the “Munchkinland Medley” rehearsal and sequence recordings, the “Munchkinland Medley” voice tests, “If I Only Had a Brain” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “If I Only Had the Nerve,” “Emerald City/The Merry Old Land of Oz,” “If I Were King of the Forest,” “The Jitterbug,” “Triumphal Return to Emerald City,” and underscoring for “Kansas,” “Munchkinland,” “The Road to Oz,” “Emerald City,” “The Witch’s Castle,” and the “Finale.”
  • Stills Galleries (SD, 60:45) Hundreds of stills, production photos, and more can be found in eighteen galleries, all of which cycle images every ten seconds. Galleries include “Oz on Broadway,” “Pre-MGM,” “Sketches and Storyboards,” “Costume and Makeup Tests,” “Richard Thorpe’s Oz,” “Buddy Ebsen,” “Oz Comes to Life,” “Behind the Scenes,” “Portraits,” “Special Effects,” “Post Production,” “Deleted Scenes,” “Original Publicity,” “Hollywood Premiere,” “New York Premiere,” “Oz Abroad,” and “Oz Revivals.”
  • Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (Audio, 60:48) A 1950 Christmas radio broadcast of The Wizard of Oz that tells the entirety of the film’s story. While it doesn’t feature the voices of the majority of the original cast, Judy Garland is on hand to voice Dorothy.
  • Good News of 1939 Radio Show (Audio, 61:01) Maxwell House Coffee presents the final edition of “Good News of 1939,” a full-length radio broadcast that finds host Robert Young interviewing the cast and playing the music of The Wizard of Oz.
  • Leo Is on the Air Radio Promo (Audio, 12:25) An extended radio advertisement for The Wizard of Oz featuring descriptions of the film, song excerpts, and dialogue.
  • Trailers (SD, 11:00) Six trailers for various releases of the film.
  • DVD Copy of the film
  • UV Digital Copy