There are a so many extras one can spend many hours learning about the film and putting it in it’s proper historical perspective.
With a set that is so “extra heavy” (especially with external features like “Print Reproductions”) something tells me this disc set will not be seen as very user friendly. Things are organized well but some stuff is hard to find.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that I have seen two to three times and as the years go on, I never remember anything about it except for the initial story. This is the tale of Dorothy and her dog Toto. Dorothy wishes she could be anywhere else but where she is. She gets her wish when a tornado sweeps through town and whisks her off to the land of Oz. Suddenly, her main goal is to get back to where she came from. To do this she must go to Emerald City and meet with the great wizard. Along the way she is accompanied by a Scarecrow who wants a brain, the Tin Man who wants a heart and the Cowardly Lion who just wants courage. This is a classic tale of realizing that everything you think you want is really right under your nose.
I don’t know what it is but I have never seen what is so great about this movie. People love it. They are fiends when they talk about it. It’s almost accepted that everyone likes this film and I honestly don’t see what the big deal is. Now, I am not trying to dissent from popular opinion just to dissent. I love the Star Wars movies, so maybe it is just a generational thing? The Wizard of Oz has just always been one of those films that I have never “got.”
This very well put together 3 disc set went a long way towards changing (or at the very least, rethinking) that opinion.
This heavily laden commentary features historian John Fricke with selected archival audio
comments by Barbara Freed-Saltzman (daughter of Arthur Freed), Margaret
Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr (son of Bert Lahr), Jane Lahr
(daughter of Bert Lahr), Hamilton Meserve (son of Margaret Hamilton),
William Tuttle (make-up artist), Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy, and Jerry Maren. I think if you look at the history of DVD commentaries, this is the most amount of people to ever appear doing commentary tracks. This commentary alone is enough to make fans happy. I say this because it is so full of anecdotes and insights into this movie that still resounds with people to this day. I really liked hearing from the kids of the people involved, mainly because it’s interesting to get their perspectives of what their parents were doing.
The Restoration of Oz; Supporting cast profile gallery; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook
This “Restoration” featurette gives us a glimpse inside what went on behind the scenes to get the film ready for this DVD. While it could certainly have fell off into the “technical, I like that they explain a lot of about the process. This is really great because we get to see a lot of before and after shots. I have always thought this movie looked really good, but it looks really nice in this 3 disc set. The “We Haven’t Really Met Properly - Supporting Cast Profile” was a look at some of the actors and actresses who we don’t talk about. I think it’s about time that they include something like this. To hear about the Wizard of Oz, one would think that there was nobody else in the movie but Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. Narrated with Angela Lansbury’s familiar voice, it was great finding out about the “smaller” characters. Also read by Lansbury is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook.” While I didn’t hear anything I really didn’t already know, this feature could be used for “virtual” bed time stories or to begin the process of nap time with younger kids. Not that it’s boring, but listening to someone read something aloud just naturally has that effect sometimes.
The Making of a Movie Classic; Harold Arlen’s onset home videos; Outtakes and Deleted scenes
In my opinion, simply from a meat and potatoes standpoint, this disc is really where the true gems lie. “The Wonderful World of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic“ is one of those documentaries that we have come to expect on special edition DVDs. This feature grounds all the others simply because it is so expansive, yet doesn’t focus on any one area. It too is hosted by Mrs. Lansbury. Two other featurettes that are included here are “The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz” and “Because of the Wonderful Things it Does: The Legacy of Oz”. These featurettes while being similar in tone, look at Oz as just an idea. How they were able to get funding is beyond me, simply because theoretically the movie sounds like an acid trip! The “Legacy” piece examines the lasting effect this movie has made on people and on other movies. This film is so entrenched in movie history, and it’s nice to see how that is broken down on this featurette. “Howard Arlen’s onset home videos” is a great behind the scenes look at life on the set of this film. When you consider what years these were being shot in, it really helps put this movie and these films in perspective. The “Outtakes and Deleted Scenes” are a bevy of moments that didn’t make it into the final film version of The Wizard of Oz. I really only noticed the “deleted scenes” simply because the film was fresh in my mind. This supplemental feature, while standard on most DVDs, wasn’t really necessary in my opinion. I am sure that fan’s will disagree.
Tornado Special Effects tests; Vintage vault featurettes; Extensive stills gallery and Six hours of audio extras
The “Tornado Special Effects test” is something that if I was a special FX person apprentice, I would cherish. This piece of film is something really cool to see even if you have no interest in FX, I was just saying that if you did it could make your viewing of this footage that much richer. “Vintage Vault Featurettes” gives us “Another Romance of Celluloid: Electrical Power” (1938 MGM short), “Cavalcade of Academy Awards” (1939 newsreel) and “Texas Contest Winners” 1939 trailer. These features, while I think a little over the top (and kind of boring), give us a bit more technical information into this film. I think it is interesting that companies felt, back when this film was made, that these pieces were relevant to the production. I am not saying they are not, especially because they were used for this DVD, I just think it’s interesting that somebody had the foresight to shoot them. I skipped around in the “Extensive Stills Gallery” just because while I like this film, I am not such a huge fan of it that I needed to really dwell on still photos from it. These pictures have been preserved well over time and it was nice to see a juxtaposition of onset life with life in front of the camera. The “Audio Extras” is something to put on while you do other work around your home. Clocking in at over 6 hours, this is a mixture of radio promos for the film, radio shows in which the film is a subject and recording sessions from the movie itself. While this “extra” will probably get the least amount of play, it is still something that “baby boomers” and others will find nostalgic.
L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain and Other Pre-1939 Versions of Oz on Screen
The documentary “L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind the Curtain” is a very long, highly in-depth look at the man who created the world of Oz. So well put together is this lengthy documentary piece, that I could see using it for term papers and especially for critical discussions on the film. On top of this, one could even write a paper on this documentary! The “Pre 1939 Versions of Oz on Screen” are mainly shorts, mixed with a couple of features and some animation. They are “The Wizard of Oz “ a short from 1910, “The Magic Cloak of Oz” another short from 1914, a feature from the same year titled “His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz,” another feature from 1925 titled “The Wizard of Oz” and lastly “The Wizard of Oz” a 1933 animated short. While certainly paling in comparisons to today's filmic wonders, these extras are really cool because we get a nice early glimpse at the world of Oz from other people’s perspectives. Honestly, if I was alive then, I would really be knocked out by look and style of these pieces. Also, to include so much on here, not just typical extras but other films, really helps enhance an already enhanced collection.
These reproductions begin with “The Wizard of Oz Comes to Life,” this is an 8 page program from Grauman’s Chinese theater when the movie premiered on August 15, 1939. “Studio's Invitation to The Grauman's Premiere” which is a nicely laid out document inviting people to the event that the 8 page program indicates. Other related items to these “Print Reproductions” are an envelope for the film that includes tickets to the “original Opening Night” of the film as well as a “newly designed” ticket. Okay, I was fine with everything else but the “newly designed” ticket is where they lost me a little.
“Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio News” which is an in-house paper covering the release of this film for the week of August 14, 1939. I really liked this from a simple “puff piece” perspective. I sort of wondered what might have happened to an employee if they gave The Wizard of Oz a bad review in this paper? The “Photoplay Studies” from 1939 is a look at this film from the producer, director, cameraman and scenarists perspectives. It is essentially a compilation of articles talking about the film, but it’s neat because we get to hear insights from people that are not professors but had a direct hand in it’s creation. Lastly, is the “Deluxe Collectors' Portfolio” which is a collection of reproduced 1939 Kodachrome publicity stills, that also include nine portraits and onset photographs. I love the look of these pictures, as they so vividly capture the time and excitement around this classic movie. While I think they may have gone a tad over the edge for some of these extras, on the whole their hearts were definitely in the right place.
1.33:1 - Full Frame. I wonder if the fact that this movie mixed black and white with color was a jolt to the audience? Something tells me that it probably wasn’t (as audiences are always thought to be less intelligent than they are), but it does make me wonder a little bit. Okay, now for the way this movie looks... if you liked nothing else about this DVD, you would love the way that the film has been restored. I have never said this before but it seems like they have gone through this movie frame by frame. It looks that good. The colors (both in black and white and in color) are so rich and lush, and while I honestly always thought, if nothing else, this movie looked good, it looks really good now. On top of this, they could have just “thrown” the extras on here, and we would probably have forgiven them if they would have looked a little “worn.” Well, all of those fears are 100% unfounded. Everything about this DVD, including all the supplemental features look great.
English - Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. I really have got to somehow ween myself off my crummy one speaker TV. I say this because I think I could have gotten a lot more out of the audio if I had not screened it on my system. What I found so interesting when I was watching this film again, was that while it it was made in 1939, it really seems like it could play well on today’s home theater systems. Sure, the audio might not be something that would pass the highest quality “THX” test, but I think that people listening to this DVD (and the accompanying “audio only” tracks) are going to find themselves surprised with this 3 disc set’s sound quality. The Wizard of Oz is a movie that blissfully resides in the worlds of the everyday, the fantastical and the chaotic. All of three of them, at any time in this film, are interchangeable. This idea is really bolstered by the audio.
The Wicked Witch looms in all her green glory across this front cover. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow timidly seem to be in her sites as she sees the future with her crystal ball. The back of this very full 3 disc set features a description of this movie, a true “Bonus Features” listing, a credits list and some technical specs. Entering the inside of this box set is like entering the world of Oz! There are all the “Photo Reproductions” (as well as all the essays) listed above and each disc his housed in it’s own plastic tray. There are many pictures from the movie laid out inside this packaging, and honestly, I have never opened up a DVD box set that offered so many external features that you could hold in your hand. As I sometimes have noted, I think when they have the awards ceremony for DVD layouts, the creators of this 3 disc set will probably be bringing home at least a few awards.
This DVD box set, from purely a collectors standpoint, is pretty darn amazing. While I might not be that big a fan of this movie, if I was, I would be very happy to own this release on DVD. As you can see, they have packed it with tons of extra stuff, and I really love that they have included a lot “Print Reproductions” simply because I feel that that enhances the overall DVD experience that viewers will have. Also, things are done pretty economically as far as organizing the discs and all the special features that come a long with it.
Well, I have seen The Wizard of Oz 4 times now and I can’t say for sure that I am going to remember everything when I screen it again (maybe that’s the mark of a really great movie?). I will admit that this time around, I had a better sense of what was going to happen next. I’ll simply chalk this up to me having seen this film enough times to now have some memory of it. While I am not sure when I will screen it again, it’s nice to know when I do that I will have all of these discs and all of these extras at my disposal.
The Wizard of Oz was released August 15, 1939.