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page added: 9/29/09



Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
1939 (2009) - MGM (Warner Bros.)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 29th, 2009
Also available on DVD

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: A
To call Victor Flemming's The Wizard of Oz a classic hardly seems necessary, and yet the film undoubtedly remains a brilliant gem of Hollywood Technicolor history even after 70 years. As our own Barrie Maxwell has noted in his review of the previous 3-disc DVD: "Any self-respecting classic fan is already aware of its magic and its timeless entertainment value, and probably has numerous copies of it in various video incarnations..." These incarnations have included a laserdisc edition, an original 2-disc DVD release and a more recent 3-disc DVD special edition, each of which has featured significant (and ever-increasing) supplementary material.

Given the film's stature, and the strong desire for more classic film fare in high-definition, it was only a matter of time before Warner would release The Wizard of Oz on Blu-ray Disc. That release has now appeared in the form of Warner's new 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition box set, which includes 2 Blu-rays and a DVD documentary disc. (Note that an all-DVD version of this UCE box is also available, and the Blu-ray can also be purchased, minus the UCE box and swag, as a 3-disc Emerald Edition exclusively at Target stores - it will likely be available more widely at retailers in time for the holidays or early next year.)

Warner has remastered Oz for Blu-ray using its trademark Ultra Resolution process, but this time at a stunning 8K resolution - the first time a feature-length dramatic film has been mastered at 8K! (MPI's Baraka documentary is the only other film to date to have been given such treatment.) What's even more amazing about this, is that each strip of the 3-strip Technicolor negative required 8K scanning, and then had to be repaired of imperfections and properly aligned to the other elements. From this, a "full film resolution" capture master was created in 4K, upon which additional scratch removal and color timing was done. The result of these exhaustive efforts is a jaw-dropping high-definition image, offered in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Oz Blu-ray can truly be said to look as good as (or even better than) the original theatrical presentation. The color palette and saturation here is just extraordinary - rich, lush and completely evocative. Refined detailing abounds in everything from fabric to brick and even facial textures. There's a light wash of grain through the frame - very light but appropriate and obviously desired to retain the original filmic quality of the image. (Thankfully, it hasn't been digitally scrubbed away!) Contrast is also excellent, with deep, dark blacks and subtle shadow detailing. The image is occasionally a little soft looking here and there (thus the .5 reduction from a perfect video score in my grade above), but this is due to focal issues with the original on-set photography rather than any kind of mastering defect. This Blu-ray presentation is just glorious - as close to perfect as we may ever see for this film.

Audio is available in remixed 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless format, along with the original mono. The 5.1 mix is good and appropriate to the film's vintage, but it's not going to dazzle anyone in terms of surround immersion. It's clean, clear and matches the visuals fairly well, just as you'd wish. This is, after all, a 70-year old film. You simply can't exactly expect sonic splendor here that wasn't technically possible at the time Oz was made.

In terms of extras, Disc One of this Blu-ray includes EVERYTHING that was on Disc One and Two of the previous 3-disc DVD release - every featurette, every gallery, every trailer, every audio highlight. It also adds a new "sing along" option. Disc Two subsequently adds all the features from Disc Three of the previous DVD, and adds a few new items as well. Among the new offerings you'll find the Victor Fleming, Master Craftsman documentary (34 mins), the Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars featurette (11 mins), the 93-minute Dreamer of Oz NBC TV movie (from 1990 - in rather poor analog video quality but it's still a nice include) and a pair of new vintage films - The Magic Cloak of Oz (38 mins) and The Patchwork Girl of Oz (51 mins). If you have the very original 2-disc DVD release, I couldn't find the 1979 interview clips (from Disc Two - with Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Margaret Hamilton) on the Blu-ray, though it's possible that they've been included in the featurettes. Other than that, all of the previous video and audio-based extras are included. The UCE box sets also include a double-sided DVD disc containing the 6-hour MGM: When the Lion Roars documentary.

In addition to the actual discs, the UCE packaging (which is itself gorgeous) lifts open to reveal a reproduction of the film's original budget (for Production 1060), the 52-page The Wizard of Oz: Behind the Curtain of Production 1060 hardcover book (featuring rare photos, script pages, studio memos and more), gorgeous reproductions of the film's original 1939 campaign and exploitation book (something that's long been considered a holy grail item for vintage film press material collectors), a Digital Copy version of the film on disc and a tin containing a lovely Oz commemorative watch. Now, I could really care less about the Digital Copy and even the watch. As a film history buff, however, all the rest of this material is very cool to have.

I do have a few complaints about this set: First, the 2 BD discs and documentary DVD are contained in a DVD-sized Digipack. It would be nice to have more traditional Blu-ray (or at least Blu-ray sized) packaging for those who might like to store the discs on their video shelves separately from the box. Second, I also wish that the regular version of the Blu-ray was available more widely from the start. Now, I'm sure Warner has some kind of spreadsheet showing how they maximize profitability with this release strategy, but from a consumer standpoint, it still feels like exactly what it is: a shameless effort to milk Oz (and Blu-ray) fans by deliberately pushing them toward the most expensive SKU. I can't begin to tell you how many complaints I get from readers about this. One of things I loved about Warner's Blade Runner: The Final Cut release, is that there was a version available for every need all on the same day. The fact is, not everyone is going to want to spend extra money for the UCE box with all the swag. Many of them ARE interested in just the disc-based content, but they get frustrated when it isn't available on street date for a more reasonable price. Warner REALLY needs to offer that choice right up front. Finally, this set DOESN'T include the paper goods from the previous 3-disc DVD release - the reproductions of Photoplay Studies magazine, the original MGM Studio News and Grauman's Chinese Theatre program, the Kodachrome photo postcards, and repro premiere invitation and ticket. As a fan, none of that is stuff I'd want to give up, so while I'll likely sell the DVDs as used, I just took all the reproduction material out of the DVD package and tucked it into the new UCE box.

In the end, your decision to spend the extra $20-40 on the UCE box (depending on the retailer and sale price), or just settle for the regular BD version of this set, is going to depend on how much you like having that extra paper content and the watch. For serious Oz enthusiasts, going with the UCE should be a no-brainer. (At $50 on Amazon, it's actually not a bad price.) More casual fans will want to just pick up the 3-disc Emerald BD at Target, or simply wait for its wider retail release in a few months. Either way, this new restoration is so impressive, and the Blu-ray image so stunning, I just can't recommend that anyone settle for the DVD version. I know there are those of you who just can't justify the added cost of Blu-ray at the moment, and I completely understand that. But if you've simply stubbornly resisted upgrading to Blu-ray on principle... well, let me tell you: You have NO IDEA what you're missing here. If you love vintage film and you've been thinking of going Blu (but have just been waiting for a good reason)... here you go. Classic Hollywood on disc just doesn't get any better than this. Whichever version you choose, Warner's Wizard of Oz on Blu-ray is highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com



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