Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wizard of Oz's 80th Anniversary: What Do We Want & What Can We Expect?

The Wizard of Oz (the MGM movie, that is) will be eighty years old in 2019. Warner Bros. commemorated its 70th and 75th anniversaries with home video and theatrical re-releases as well as a variety of merchandise, promotional events, and collectible offerings. Given that the 75th anniversary of the film was mostly celebrated in 2013, almost a full year before its actual anniversary, it's time to start thinking about what might be in store for the 80th anniversary. What do we want to see that we haven't seen before? What don't we want to see? And what can we expect to see come 2018 and 2019? All good questions.

Let's start with what we can expect to see from the Brothers Warner. It's pretty much a lock at this point that the next home video re-release will include 4K ("Ultra HD") Blu-ray. The format has certainly become more popular in the years since the 75th anniversary release, and we know for a fact that such a print of the film (in 8K resolution, actually) already exists. The question, though, is whether or not the 80th anniversary release will include Blu-ray 3D as well. I'm quite the advocate for the format and for 3D in general, but the reality is that I'm in the minority there. 3D TVs are no longer being made, and it's becoming less and less of a certainty that every major home video release will include Blu-ray 3D, even if it was previously available in that format. The latest home video release of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, for example, does not include Blu-ray 3D, even though the one prior (the "Diamond" edition) did.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the MGM film's 80th anniversary will nearly coincide (if all goes to plan) with the release of the long-awaited Wicked movie, which is currently slated for December 20, 2019. Since Wicked will likely be in public consciousness even more so than usual, I wouldn't be surprised to see the witches, especially the Wicked Witch, front and center in whatever merchandise and promotional material comes along with The Wizard of Oz's 80th anniversary. (The packaging of the 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, for example, was clearly inspired by Wicked, which makes sense given the popularity of the musical at that time.)

Okay, so we've established that I (and at least a handful of other Oz fans that I know of) would like for the film to continue to be available in 3D. But what else do we (I) want?

On the home video front, I'd like to see the next release focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of physical extras. The 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition included far too many unsubstantial "collectible" items, presumably to justify a high price point. Sure, the photo book is nice, but what purpose does it have when a better, more comprehensive companion book is available separately? The pins are nice, too, but their inclusion in a home video box set makes little sense. The Ruby Slipper "sparkler globe" and Wicked Witch of the East flash drive are even more out of place here and are so cheaply made that they're by no means worthy of the adjective "collectible."


The physical extras included with the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, in my opinion, were generally of higher quality than those included with the 75th, but still I question the reason for including something like a wristwatch in a home video release. It's true that a shiny, bulky box set looks nicer and more "collectible" on the shelf, but I'd like for what's inside to feel less like things you'd put in a Christmas stocking.

In terms of bonus features, I'd definitely like to see everything from the previous releases carried over to this one. I feel like Disney has been shortchanging consumers by re-releasing many of its titles with less bonus features than previous home video releases, and I'd hate for Warner Bros. to do the same here. I'm glad to see that the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic has recently been made available on its own after being excluded from the 75th anniversary release, but yes, I think it should absolutely be included in the next release.

I'm actually pretty happy with the various featurettes and documentaries that Warner Bros. has put together over the years, but I wouldn't mind seeing a new one that delves a bit deeper into Oz outside of the 1939 film (spanning the books, other adaptations, the Oz community, etc.). I think a Judy Garland-centric documentary of some sort could be interesting and would appeal to a lot of people, too.


Essentially all previous releases of the film have included "Outtakes and Deleted Scenes," but I think these are worth taking another stab at for the next release. The "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" reprise have been paired with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, but the images are of very poor quality, and they even suffer from some bizarre digital distortion that's difficult to describe but results in portions of the image being duplicated in random places. (See here and here.) I'm fairly sure that I've seen those images elsewhere without that problem, so I don't think it would be too difficult to correct.

The famously deleted musical sequence "The Jitterbug" was incorporated into the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which has brought out curiosity among fans about the possibility of recreating some of the many deleted scenes from the original film with animation or, at the very least, storyboards/animatics. It's definitely not something that we need to have, but it would be fun to see what these scenes could have looked like. Maybe each one could have a brief introduction (by someone like John Fricke or TCM's Ben Mankiewicz) to provide a little context?

Ted Esbaugh's Wizard of Oz cartoon has been included in every home video release of the 1939 film since at least 2005, but since the 75th anniversary release, it has been restored in high-definition and released in a collection of similar animated short films by a company called Thunderbean Animation, dubbed Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares. I personally do not own this collection, but from what I've seen and heard of it from people who do, it's a pretty substantial upgrade in terms of quality. (You can check out Jared's review of that here, which includes some screenshots for comparison.) I don't think it's necessary to do, but I think it would be nice to see the restored version of that cartoon on the 80th anniversary release. It's just a matter of whether or not Warner Bros. is willing to spend a little extra money to make that happen.

I'll admit that I personally don't watch the DVD discs since I can watch the movie either on Blu-ray or digitally, but it would be nice if Warner Bros. put in a little extra effort and created new DVD menus, which have not changed since the 2005 release. They don't have to be anything too special, but they should at least reflect the packaging and overall branding for the 80th anniversary.

On the subject of branding, a complaint that I and many other Oz fans have had in recent years is the lack of quality in the artwork used for the film's merchandise, packaging, and promotional material. This isn't exactly a new problem with Warner Bros. in my opinion, but I do think it's gotten worse as of late, and I really would like to see improvement in this area come the 80th anniversary. I'd be happy as a clam at high tide if I never had to see these stiff, garish, and overused digital recreations of the cast again. Eeesh. (Ever heard about The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, this 2017 calendar is exemplary of that.)

The film is still aired on television several times each year as it has been for decades, but how nice would it be for this to be approached more as a "television event" than it has been in recent years? Warner Bros. could strike a deal with a major network like NBC or CBS to air the film, perhaps accompanied by some sort of special, exclusive content along the lines of what TCM often does, serving up some legitimate trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the film deserves more respect than the ridiculous ad campaign that TBS delivered when it aired the film last year...


At the end of the day, I think what we all want is for Warner Bros. to treat the film, and its fans, with respect (which isn't to say that they've necessarily failed to do so in the past). Most of us will continue to shell out the money for new collectibles and home video releases, but that loyalty shouldn't be taken for granted. Quality over quantity, always. (I'm looking at you, too, Hallmark...)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oz News

It's been awhile since I blogged here about something besides the podcast... But I have some updates.

First is a sad one as late last month, we learned that Robin Olderman had passed away. I heard later that she had her family nearby and knew it was coming. I'm sure she also knew the good wishes of her friends in the Oz community were with her.

Robin was a lifelong Oz fan and longtime member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, who told me when I interviewed her for the podcast that when she first saw the MGM Wizard of Oz, she said aloud "That's not right!" in the theater when Glinda introduced herself as the Good Witch of the North. She wrote many pieces for The Baum Bugle and served as editor for Oziana for several years, even writing a few pieces for it.

But Robin made a lot of friends, particularly at Oz events and conventions. During my years at Winkie Con/Oz Con International, she attended every year. I've heard how she would "adopt" some friends and become very close with them. Her friendship with Oz artist Rob Roy MacVeigh was legendary enough that the two were immortalized as a caveman and his wife by Dick Martin in his Ozmapolitan of Oz.

At OzCon 2015, she happened to attend a video screening room I had provided a DVD of short Oz subjects to be shown. Part of them was my color tinting of the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz film, and she later told me she enjoyed my treatment of the film. During our live commentary of Return to Oz with a handful of the cast and crew, Robin whispered her own commentary to me. It was this that led me to ask her to appear on the podcast, which I'm glad I did as it preserved her voice for other fans to hear. My title "Robin Olderman Spills The Beans" came directly from the candid nature of her conversation. She'll be missed.

We also have some home video news. If you recall, we noted that 2013's home video editions of MGM's The Wizard of Oz dropped the classic documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. It had been replaced with a new documentary, and seemingly, producer Jack Haley Jr. even sued about it as the new documentary seemed to derive content from the old one, plus with it dropped, no royalties were being paid any further, and with it no longer being a bonus feature, there were not many other avenues for it to be released.

Well, Warner Brothers seems to have rectified this with a solo release of the documentary on DVD in the Warner Archive collection, the manufacture on demand branch of Warner Home Video for titles with limited market appeal. It complements the special features very well, even with some repetition. Anyone with a DVD or Blu-Ray of MGM's The Wizard of Oz from 1999, 2005 or 2009 (with the exception of some DVD editions) already has it, though I'm sure that there are collectors who will pick up this release regardless.

Discotek—a home video producer specializing in anime and other Japan-originated properties—will finally be releasing the complete Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series from PanMedia, using Cinar's English version to home video on August 29. No preorders are live. I am curious of the disc count of the DVD edition, as there are 52 episodes. However, they will also release it on SDBD: Standard Definition Blu-Ray, a Blu-Ray disc that uses DVD quality video (usually because no higher quality version can be made), but can take advantage of the large capacity of a Blu-Ray to hold a lot more content, which could easily fit all 52 episodes on a single dual-layer disc with a good amount of space left for some modest bonuses, which haven't been announced either.

The series has a lot of fans, so I know many people will be glad to hear that the English version is available on physical home video at last.

Diskotek has also released the first episode of the series in Japanese with English subtitles to YouTube, reportedly to "gauge interest." Whether this affects the home video edition or if they're considering somehow also releasing a Japanese language version with English subtitles, I'd suggest fans give it a watch or two, drop a like on YouTube, and share it with their friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz celebrates L. Frank Baum's birthday!

The Royal Podcast of Oz presents two installments for L. Frank Baum's birthday this year.

Jay tells us of the life of L. Frank Baum, with some commentary from Sam. Afterward, they discuss their sources. Then the Royal Podcast of Oz finishes presenting tales from Little Wizard Stories of Oz with "Ozma and the Little Wizard" to celebrate L. Frank Baum's birthday. When Ozma discovers some troublesome imps in Oz, the Wizard puts his magic to work to stop them.

Make sure to listen all the way to the end!

The cast includes Mike Conway, Doug Wall, Kim McFarland, Severino Milazzo and Sam Milazzo.

You can listen and download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these.



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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Off to Oz!

As I'm sure many of our readers already know, I'm really passionate about writing and filmmaking, and I'm currently studying film in college. One of my favorite things about being here is being able to collaborate with my brother Andrew Thomas, a super talented animator and illustrator.

Late last year, I edited and created the visual effects for his short film Chasing Christmas, which was an official selection of the 2017 Columbus International Film & Video Festival. (You can check that out by clicking here.)

I'm now excited to share our latest collaborative effort, Off to Oz, directed and animated by my brother and written and edited by yours truly. The animated short film is, of course, inspired by Oz and is actually based on one of my favorite moments in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jonathan Walter, who composed the music for Chasing Christmas as well as for my short film adaptation of The Night Before Christmas, provided the original music for the film. 

We're very proud of and happy with how it turned out, and I hope everyone enjoys watching it as much we enjoyed making it!

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Movies of Oz - The Oz Kids: The Return of Mombi

Jay and Sam discuss the finale of the Oz Kids series: Mombi the witch regains her power and sets to take over Oz! How can the Oz Kids defeat her without their parents? What is the Oz Kids chronology? All this, plus a capsule review of The Wizard of Oz on Ice.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these. 



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Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Oz Kids - The Monkey Prince

Jay and Sam reach the penultimate Oz Kids episode in which the kids go to China to assist a Monkey Prince learn an important lesson. ... We think...

Check out the Extra Butter Podcast and Sam's DeviantArt.
You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below. Or subscribe with Stitcher or iTunes. You can also support the podcast on Patreon.



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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Best & Worst of Oz Villains on Screen

I've been thinking a lot recently about The Wizard of Oz and what makes the film so iconic and so memorable, and one of the (rather obvious) conclusions I've come to is that for a lot of people, the Wicked Witch is as responsible - and in some cases, even more responsible - for their love and appreciation of the film as Dorothy is. This got me thinking, what makes a good Oz villain? What makes a bad one? And so, I've come up with of who I find to be definitively the best and the worst villains of the many film & TV adaptations of Oz...  

The Best



1. The Wicked Witch, The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch isn't just the best on-screen Oz villain, she's one of the greatest and most iconic villains of film period. While I was never terrified by her as a child as many other children are, there's no denying this witch's wickedness. This incarnation of the Witch of the West is quite different than Baum's, but I think the liberties that were taken with the character make for a much stronger and more memorable villain. Hamilton's performance as the Wicked Witch and her Kansas equivalent Ms. Gulch is both campy and sinister, making what could have easily been a somewhat one-dimensional antagonist one that is just as interesting as the story's protagonist. And, of course, if it weren't for this Wicked Witch, I think it's safe to say that we would never have gotten Wicked, which, aside from the MGM film, is probably the most popular and most successful adaptation of Baum's work to date.


2. The Nome King, Return to Oz (1985) - Like the Wicked Witch in the MGM film, Return to Oz's Nome King isn't exactly like his literary counterpart, and as was the case with the Wicked Witch, I think I actually prefer this iteration of the character over Baum's. The most interesting aspect of Nicol William's Nome King is that as the viewer, we're never really sure whether or not he's actually "the bad guy." Sure, he's holding the Scarecrow captive and turned everyone into stone, but the reasons he gives for what he's done makes him and the overall story more complex... which is basically what all good villains should do.


3. Azkadelia, Tin Man (2007) - I don't think I've seen Katleen Robertson in anything outside of her role in Tin Man, but I think her performance is one of the things that truly elevated the production to being something greater and more cinematic than typical Syfy Channel fare. Where the protagonist might leave something to be desired in terms of charisma and dimensionality, Azkadelia compensates by being one of the best developed and most compelling antagonists of any Oz adaptation I've seen. There's a definite deviation from the source material happening with this Witch of the West-inspired character and with the series as a whole, but it's executed so well that I really don't mind it.


4. Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985) - You can pretty much thank Princess Mombi for all the times you've heard someone talk about how scary Return to Oz is. The character is mostly based on Baum's character Princess Langwidere, one of the antagonists of Ozma of Oz, but is also derived from the character Mombi, who first appeared as the main antagonist of The Marvelous Land of Oz. The visual effects involved in the memorably haunting scenes in which Princess Mombi changes heads aren't exactly convincing by contemporary standards, but one can see how children of the 1980s would find this character downright terrifying. Of the several actresses who portray the character in the film, Jean Marsh has the most screen time and is the most memorable. She isn't as complex or as interesting as the film's other, previously mentioned "big bad," nor does she hold a candle to the Wicked Witch of the West, but I think I would be remiss not to include Princess Mombi on this list.


The Worst



1. Evilene, The Wiz (1978) - If there's anything Mabel King's Evilene has over Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch, it's that Mabel King's did scare me as a child and still sort of does now. There are a lot of things to dislike about this film, but chief among those for me is this character. I'm not really sure what the intent or inspiration was for this take on the Witch of the West, but it's just bad all around. I guess maybe Joel Schumacher really took the "only bad witches are ugly" line from the MGM film to heart? Eeesh. Basically, anyone who thinks Return to Oz is the scariest Oz movie ever made should revisit The Wiz. (Did I really just recommend re-watching The Wiz? Oy.)


2. The Nome King, The Witches of Oz (2011) - If you saw The Witches of Oz but don't remember the Nome King being in it, it's probably because a) he has about five minutes of screen time in the nearly three-hour film and b) there's nothing about the character's actions or appearance that reflect the character as we know him from the books and previous film adaptations like Return to Oz. I was lucky enough to attend a premiere screening of the film when it was released theatrically (as Dorothy and the Witches of Oz), and I got to meet and talk to Al Snow, the actor who plays the character. He's very nice and charismatic on a personal level, and believe it or not, he's actually read all the Oz books himself and knows quite a bit about them. It's a real shame then that he wasn't given a better role to play and that the character wasn't better realized. The Nome King appears out of nowhere in the third act of the film and does little more than fight the Tin Man. If it weren't for "No one beats the Nome King," the character's only line in the film, we would have no idea who this guy is supposed to be.


3. West, Emerald City (2016) - Remember how I said that I liked how the writers of the MGM film put their own spin on Baum's Witch of the West? Yeah, well, that doesn't always work out so well, and Emerald City's take on the character (and most other characters, but I digress) is proof of that. Because the Witch of the West has always been one of my favorite characters and was probably my favorite part of the MGM film from an early age, I feel especially let down by this incarnation of the character. She has so little in common with previous incarnations of the character that I'm left wondering why even bother calling her West? But I guess the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of Emerald City. (Did you know, for instance, that the actual "Beast Forever" was supposed to be the Nome King? Yeah, me neither.)


4. Theodora, Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - In complete contrast to the rather feminist and progressive characterization of the Witch of the West in Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful imagines the character as a woman scorned, motivated primarily by jealousy and rejection. I see the film itself as a sort of mixed bag overall, but I feel like it totally misses the mark here, which is a little ironic given that the Witch of the West was so prevalent in the film's merchandise and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the character fails on virtually every level, from the script and casting to the final make-up and costume design. I don't think it's fair to put too much blame on Mila Kunis, who I am generally a fan of and who I think has proven her acting chops elsewhere, but I do think that she was miscast (and likely misdirected) here, which is a shame because this is a role that she was very excited about and really gave her all to.

But what say you, readers? Is there a particular villain you feel really deserved a spot on either of these lists? Is there one that didn't? Chime in in the comments below with your own opinions!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: NBC's Emerald City Part 2

Jay reunites with Rachel Anderson and Angelo Thomas for another unedited and unfiltered episode to discuss the back half of NBC's season of Emerald City. How did it go? Will there be a season 2? Why are our hosts talking about the next Oz TV show coming already?

You can listen, download and subscribe at the Podcast site, or subscribe with Stitcher or iTunes. You can also support the podcast on Patreon.



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