The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Edition Review
The final line of The Wizard of Oz sums up its basic message beautifully, there is, indeed, no place like home. Despite all of Dorothy's wishing and dreaming, despite the possibility of magic and transformation, where you belong is where you belong. In that sense, Dorothy's home of the small farm in Kansas becomes the achievable dream, the paradigm for the viewer, and, for many, the reason why a film full of colour, tricks and monsters seems so deeply conservative. For many, worn down by endless holiday showings on TV and now seemingly beyond the clutches of childish fantasy, Fleming's movie becomes impossibly cute, unchallengingly whitebread and an exercise in being happy with your lot.
The objectification of "little people", the absence of black faces and the lauding of the homespun values of middle America are facets that can rankle with a progressive viewer. The film can be seen as playing with the subversion of fantasy in its explosion of technicolor and plethora of creatures, only ultimately to reject Dorothy's imaginative emancipation in favour of the explanation of a fever dream. All you normal people need to realise that reality is where you're happy, that there is no place like home and you should just need to get used to sepia toned black and white because colour is a luxury you don't deserve.
I have to admit to belonging to this school of thought before I watched Dorothy and her symbolic crew waltz off down the yellow brick road for the first time in years. I prepared myself to feel the sweetness rotting my teeth, to wince at the awkwardness of the fable, and to sneer at the simple world of Oz where good prevails and evil melts. I had practiced my best sarcasm and got all metropolitan and sophisticated, ready to slaughter the sacred cow beloved of families everywhere.
Well I tried to know better but I've failed. Instead of feeling snide sophistication, I was charmed and moved by the sincerity that shines through the production, bewitched by Judy Garland's naivety, and slightly creeped out by the flying monkeys. Indeed, I even found myself fighting back the urge to join in with the endlessly familiar songs and memorable lines - Tin Man to Scarecrow, after his straw has been cast to the winds by the devilish apes, "you're all over the place today". For all that I tried to assert my cynicism, my good nature was won over by the optimism and the fantasy.
I even started to reconsider the supposed conservatism of the piece. Rather than extol family values and push the superiority of the farming lifestyle, I noted that Dorothy lived with her adoptive parents(aunt and uncle) rather than mom and dad. I further saw that the threat to her happiness was one put into motion by a rich busybody muscling in on her poorer neighbours. I reappraised the political nature of a story where authority is revealed to be smoke and mirrors in fantasy and at the utility of the powerful in reality.
Most of all, I realised that this tale is about empowerment through adventure and imagination. The Wizard of Oz retains its potency due to its ability to reach out to those who share the desires of the lead characters. Dorothy wants to see a better world and to escape harsh reality, the Lion seeks courage, the Tin Man needs a heart, and the Scaregrow wants intellect. Each magically receives their supposed goal because of their own efforts in seeking it rather than having it bestowed upon them. And I suppose the message for the viewer wanting these same qualities is that they can have them if they really try.
And that is the wonderful thing that The Wizard of Oz does. It gives heart, courage, and wisdom, and it offers a dream that revitalises the here and now. A single viewing can cause a sceptic like myself to rediscover romance, joy, and childlike fascination.
Powerful enough to make a cynic change his heart, The Wizard Of Oz is funny, sweet, and deceptively clever.
The first disc of this set contains the main presentation in academy ratio and encoded using the VC1 codec and offering a lossless audio option in a TrueHD 5.1 track. The desire to sharpen the film up for high definition has been ignored and what is offered here may not excite those wanting detail, but those who want a film like presentation will smile at the eye popping colour and solid black levels. Edges seem natural and the level of grain is appropriate, and skintones don't betray hints of too much DNR. For a seventy year old film this is pretty impressive.
The lossless HD track is mixed as 5.1 although there is little use of the rear channels with nearly everything being mixed in the front speakers. The dialogue is rich and the music is beautifully reproduced although a lossless mono track might have been a preferable inclusion, but there is the option to listen to a standard mono track if this lack of real 3-D sound annoys you. There is also a music and effects track which forsakes the dialogue for the other sound elements.
The two blu-ray discs were available for review, the third disc is a DVD and repeats some of the extras from the first blu-ray reviewed here. A lot of the extras are the same as those covered by Eamonn in his review of the R1 collector's edition which you will find a link for in the left hand column. The first disc starts with the main feature and offers the same commentary introduced by the late Sydney Pollack but chiefly driven by contributions from John Fricke which are edited around interviews and comments from Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, John Lahr and others from cast and crew. Fricke explores the myths about the film and reveals that King Vidor directed some parts of the film, Ebsen talks about how he got canned as the Tin man(sorry!), and Margaret Hamilton talks of her mixed emotions as being cast as the witch.
The main feature carries sing a long subtitles of which I won't comment other than to say they're avoidable. The making of documentary is again the same as the one described by Eamonn with Angela Lansbury's narration piecing together reminiscences and archive footage of interviews and filming, all in front of her roaring fire sporting a comfy sweater. Thankfully the contributions are not quite as twee as Lansbury and the piece is a good introduction to the film's production.
Peter Jackson and other modern talking heads praise the creativity behind the film in Art of imagination, where the songwriters, the producers and the creatives at MGM are celebrated by similarly impressive modern artists. Next up is a documentary talking about how the film has prospered from TV showings and how its made an impact in the lives of fans ever since. There's more nostalgia from the likes of John Waters in a TCM documentary, as well as thoughts from surviving munchkins and crew. Angela Lansbury returns to read the short story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring the original storybook in a shortish piece, and then we hear about the restoration of this feature presentation using the original camera element and scanning the film at 4K.
The modern featurettes on the first disc are completed by short biographies narrated by Lansbury for many of the supporting cast. There is then 70 minutes of original recordings from the film in the Jukebox option where you can hear live takes of Garland singing and the score being recorded. More audio goodies come courtesy of two radio promos and a hour long broadcast from 1950 with the story re-enacted by Garland in slightly truncated form.
Several archive features are included from the time of the film's production with short hymns to the wonder of electricity, a Frank Capra assembled reel of Oscars footage including Micky Rooney giving Judy Garland her Oscar, and a short newsreel showing competition winners visiting the set of the film. Some 1967 animations of Chuck Jones use the characters from Oz to introduce family films, 6 trailers and a stills gallery follow, before we get on to additional footage featuring alternate and deleted scenes, effects tests and Harold Arlen's home movies shot during the film's making. Throughout Lansbury narrates and explains the background to these clips.
Phew, now onto the second disc! Victor Fleming's praises are sung first off - "a man's man", "he blends into any genre", "a master craftsman" and so on. The likes of William Friedkin and Francis Lawrence praise films like Captain Courageous, Gone With The Wind and so on with Fleming's quality to fix failing films hailed as well. The second feature explores L Frank Baum, his initial lack of success as a writer and his collaboration with illustrationist WW Denselow which eventually led to the story of The Wizard Of Oz.
Munchkins get their kudos with their own star on the Hollywood walk of fame in a short piece with interviews with some of the surviving performers which explains the campaign to get their representation amongst the greats of Tinseltown. John Ritter stars in a biopic of L Frank Baum which is jawdroppingly awful and sacharine sweet, I won't pretend I watched it all and anyone who is able to is a better man than me.
Far better in the way of extras are the silent and animated versions of L Frank Baum's work included here. There is even one directed by Baum himself in 1914's His Majesty The Scarecrow which is not the most talented or coherent pieve of film-making you ever may see! Much improved is the 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz and 1933 animation included here as well. In this whole package I'd say these vintage pieces are the definite draw for fans of the writer.
All extras are presented in 480P, most at 29 frames per second.
There's more here than a reformed cynic like me can appreciate but the presentation of the main film is very good and the most twee extras can be avoided by those of a similar temperament. A very impressive package indeed.