Thursday, November 22, 2007

Returning to Oz #28 + MGM DVD review

And now, it is time to review the 28th episode of Aaron Pacentine's "Returning to Oz."

This episode opens with Aaron Pacentine and Aaron Schultz introducing Gabe Rodreiguez, who has made a feature-length documentary on Disney's Return to Oz, The Joy That Got Away. Gabe tells us about the production and how it came. (As creator of my own documentary series, The Wonders of Oz, I could relate to Gabe on many points.)

Up next, Aaron Schultz answers the question "Was Ozma real in Return to Oz?" Aaron's answer is well-researched and satisfying, and may help you make up your own mind. (I came up with a complete theory on the movie, and will soon post it as a blog.)

Then, we get a very special treat. Aaron interviews Dorothy Gale.

Yes, Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy Gale?

Okay, well, it's actually impersonator Penny Wiggins, but she does an excellent job, not only imitating Judy Garland's voice, but answering Aaron's questions (remember, this is the Dorothy from the MGM movie, not the books, so several of Penny's answers will not match up with what we've read). It's sure to raise a chuckle!

(I will note here that I actually discovered Penny. I found this video on YouTube, featuring her as Dorothy, and told Aaron about it, but he gets full credit for contacting her.)

Following this is a quick interview with Derek Shapiro, brother and manager of previous guy Rolla, who appeared and sang "Over The Rainbow" on episode 24.

Aaron and Aaron wrap it up.

After a hiatus of a few months, this is a great return to the series. It gets funny and informative when it needs to, and, once again, IS WORTH THE DOWNLOAD!

Yesterday, I also reviewed the MGM Wizard of Oz 3-disc DVD at Here it is...

(5 stars) Why MGM Is The Best To Date

This is not one of my favorite movies. To be sure, to some degrees, it is a faithful adaptation of the book with certain liberties taken considering the time it was made and the technology for film at the time. I am a huge fan of L. Frank Baum, however, and long to see a much more faithful version brought to the big screen.

The film's plot is a great condensation from the book. Although they made Oz simply a dream, audiences would not be expected to believe otherwise. (Even before "Happy Days," you could "jump the shark.") The Wicked Witch appear near the beginning, making her the main antagonist, so the film has to end shortly after her demise.

The acting is superb, as are the songs and directing. (And no, no one hangs themself in the movie!)

One element that made this film the biggest version of Oz for a long time is often overlooked. Before this classic musical, the most beloved version was the musical extravangza, which debuted on stage in 1902. In order to make their film succeed and surpass this version, MGM went closer to the book, although taking the play's ideas of humor and contemporary-sounding songs with it. Like the play, Judy Garland's Dorothy is older than she was in the book, but not quite as old as Anna Laughlin's portrayal.

There have been many other versions of Oz since this one, but they spend too much time trying not to resemble this version (or try to seem like it without completely copying it), that they are either largely forgotten or have become blacklisted. (Disney's ambitious "Return to Oz," which almost followed the same pattern, for example.)

If a new version is to succeed, it needs to see what made this film great, and try to incorporate that into it. (Sorry, Todd MacFarlane, you're not going to cut it.)

Now for the DVD. The 3-disc edition is the one I own and reccomend. The picture is sharp and clear, now completely restored to how it should have looked since 1939. The audio is crisp and lossless. The whole movie now looks as good as a new film.

And now the DVD is loaded with bonus features. An audio commentary hosted by John Fricke gives you a look into the making of this classic. Other audio features let you hear the film's original mono soundtrack, and the soundtrack without dialogue. Disc 1 also features cast profiles for the supporting cast (strangely, no biographical information about the star, Judy Garland, is given on the set, except very basic information), a documentary on the restoration of the film for this set, and an animated abridgement of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," read by Angela Lansbury.

Disc 2 gets into the making and legacy of the film. Two previously made TV specials on the movie are included. The highly informative "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic" and "Memories of Oz," which is informative, just not as much. The new featurette "The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz" features contemporary film-makers giving their opinions on the movie. "Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz" features Oz fandom and the continuation of Oz after the 1939 movie, even featuring a few people I've contacted myself. Also, archival audio and video features round out disc 2, making just these two discs satisfying for any fan of the film.

If you're a Baum fan, however, Disc 3 holds more wonders. An excellent documentary on Oz creator L. Frank Baum leads it. (However, in a few spots, the information does get confusing...) Also included is the earliest surviving Oz film: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" from the Selig Polyscope Company in 1910. Then we have two of Baum's own Oz films, "The Magic Cloak of Oz" and "His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz." (There was also "The Patchwork Girl of Oz," but it is not on this set, though the Baum documentary does mention it.) Following these is a restored version of the 1925 silent "Wizard of Oz" with Larry Semon, one of the worst Oz films ever. Wrapping up disc 3 is the first Oz cartoon, "The Wizard of Oz" from 1933.

Also in the 3-disc set are print materials: reproductions of the film's premeire program, ticket, invitation, the MGM studio newsletter, a Photoplay Studies Guide for teachers, and restored publicity photographs. Also is a postcard sized... card showing several of the movie's poster.

If you are a Baum or Oz collector, GET THIS EDITION! You will not be sorry!

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