Monday, March 31, 2008

The Wiz: 30th Anniversarry DVD Review

(I didn't want to post another review so soon, but wanted to do this one so much, I relented.)

So, the urban 1970's update on the classic Wizard of Oz story has been released to DVD again. The first DVD was released in 1999, and it contained the film, a making-of featurette called "Wiz On Down the Road" made to promoted the film, and the original trailer. In addition were production notes and cast biographies (done as DVD menus you could read through).

This year, 30 years after the release of the film, it sees a DVD release again.

The packaging is rather nice, though I notice that the layout of it is quickly becoming the norm for DVD based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion on the road before the City they travel to. It's on this DVD, on the Tin Man DVD, and on Warner Brothers' first MGM Wizard of Oz DVD. (Well... It's not a bad design.) This has some reflective foil printing, and some glitter accents.

Now, onto the menu! This DVD has no previews on it, definitely not a bad thing to leave off. So, the menu is... silent. The picture is similar to the cover, in fact. We also get a French language track and subtitles. Overall, not a bad menu... but you'd think there'd at least be music on a menu for a musical movie.

The film has been remastered in both sound and picture. And, compared to the last DVD, it shows! The picture is somewhat more colorful, and the sound is clearer.

Onto the movie: this re-imagining of the classic Oz tale differs greatly from the Tony-winning Broadway musical adaptation. Dorothy (Diana Ross) is a 24 year-old school schoolteacher in Harlem, late 1970's, living with her Aunt Emma and Uncle Henry. During a winter family gathering, she practically hides from her family: her cousins and other relatives having married, having children, laughing and interacting. This Dorothy is afraid to live.

Later, she runs outside during a severe blizzard to catch her dog, Toto. A freak twister blows her and Toto to the Land of Oz, landing in Munchkinland. As she flies in, she breaks a "OZ" logo that falls and kills Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East, freeing the Munchkins from the curse that was put on them, having (unconvincingly) turned them into graffitti. Miss One (Thelma Carpenter), the Good Witch of the North, arrives and tells Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to see the Wiz (Richard Pryor) in the Emerald City.

Along her way, Dorothy rescues and becomes friends with a Scarecrow (Michael Jackson... yes, THAT Michael Jackson), a carnival Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), and a Lion without courage (Ted Ross, who originated the role in the Original Cast of the Broadway musical). Facing the terrors of a subway station that comes to life to attack them, and a night club that reeks a perfume that puts people to sleep, they reach the Emerald City, only to be told to kill Evilene (Mabel King, who originated the role on Broadway), the Wicked Witch of the West. Lena Horne completes the cast as Glinda.

The movie tries to be good. It really does. Unfortunately, the lesson to be learned and character growth for Dorothy are smothered by overdone song sequences that feel too long, and too many jokes that are only funny if you really get into the movie. In addition, the way almost all the sets look (with the exception of Harlem and the Emerald City) is rather monotonous. The colors are not very bright, and not very much fun to look at. The concept of New York City as Oz is a unique idea, but it doesn't seem to be executed well here.

All in all, it's an okay movie, but had so much potential.

The Special Features on the DVD have been reduced. The cast biographies and production notes from the last release have been dropped. (Which, in my opinion, proves they were too lazy or cheap to update these for DVD, or do them in a new way.) The featurette and trailer are retained, though their age shows. They are, however, subtitled.

This DVD also comes with a non-DVD bonus: a music CD with eight songs from the movie. These are He's The Wizard, You Can't Win, Ease On Down The Road (first version with just Michael Jackson and Diana Ross), Slide Some Oil To Me, I'm A Mean Ole Lion, the very long Emerald City Song Sequence, Brand New Day, and Home. The big problem is, this set mainly appeals to collectors, who either want the whole soundtrack, or already own the complete soundtrack. Not to mention CDs are going the way of vinyl LPs. If they were going to make the music a bonus, a coupon for a discount of the complete soundtrack on iTunes at least may have been more desirable.

On a scale of 1 to 10: 6. Lack of any worthwhile new features, and actually cutting some from the older release is what tears it here. Not to mention, you have a movie that is too long and fails to deliever a volatile point. I still think that this DVD, in picture and sound, is an improvement over the older one. The remastering peeled a layer of age from the film, and the viewing experience is better for the result.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Tin Man" DVD Review

Okay, so the DVD of "Tin Man" is out, and you may or may not have it, so here is my DVD review.

First off, the first thing you see is the cover. Well, the holographic foil on the paperboard sleeve is pretty striking. (Wait... The paperboard sleeve is the collectible O-Ring packaging?) Only problem is... the original cover design (and an early poster) were pretty dynamic. This falls a little flat.

Okay, when you insert the first DVD (both of which look pretty nice, but you can easily tell which one is which), you get the copyright notice, the company notice, some previews (which I didn't note, but there's quite a few), then the menu has a nice animation, and a nice little movie showing clips from the whole series. (Disc 2 is the same, without the previews.)

Disc 1 has Part 1 and Part 2 on it, no special features. Also absent is alternate language tracks, alternate audio tracks (so no commentary), and subtitles. (There is also no Closed Captions, but this isn't on a DVD menu.) There are scene selections, eight scenes for each part, and the scene selections for each part run into each other, reminding you that these are both parts of one story.

Okay, video quality is very good. I believe it's the best definition you can get on a standard DVD. I'm not reviewing the story, because I've done so on this blog entry... However, the parts have been extended. There are additional little scenes, like more fun with Glitch, more evilness with Azkadelia, and more tracking with Cain. These scenes neither make the series better nor make it worse.

Disc 2 only has Part 3 and the Special Features. Part 3 is also extended.

In addition, the opening title card and credits are now absent from parts 2 & 3 (but the video is still there) and there is no end credits on parts 1 & 2, and the opening credits on part 1 and the end credits on part 3 have been expanded to cover the entire series.

The Special Features are quite good, making this another rarity when it comes to Oz DVDs. (Very few have good special features.)

First up is the "Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: The Making of Tin Man" feature. This was aired on SciFi about a week before the miniseries (and was also a popular bootleg download and the only feature available on bootleg Tin Man DVDs), so this makes it a nice addition.

Next up is a new documentary: "On The Set With The Director," a documentary that, once again, goes behind the scenes and lets the cast and crew talk about working with director Nick Willing.

Now we have the "Blooper Reel." Ah, yes. We all love to see the cast mess up on their lines and cues... except that doesn't happen much here. It's mostly the crew joking around and the cast having downtime. Still fun to watch, but it should have been called by a different name.

Next up is raw footage of interviews with Nick Willing, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, and Neal McDonough. (Some promotional videos used interviews with Kathleen Robertson and Raoul Trujillio, but that isn't here.*) Some of this, if you're watching the special features sequentially, will sound familiar, as some of it was used in the featurettes. You can also faintly hear the interviewer asking questions and the director, actor or actress listening to them. This can be a little distracting, but most of the time it is bearable. Sadly, Miss Deschanel is not a good interviewee. She even has to ask the interviewer to re-state the actual question. We do learn some interesting things about the cast and crew, though.

Finally is the full-length Tin Man trailer. This was all over the Internet, and probably on SciFi, too, so you've probably seen it. (I even showed in my blog when it was officially released to YouTube.)

All in all, if I had to rate this DVD on a scale from 1 to 10, I'd give it an 8. Lack of subtitles, closed captioning (come on, fans whipped up a set of subtitles for the bootleg video files), and the special features, while there is a considerable amount, could have been a bit better.

I say, add it to your Oz collection. It's probably the best re-imagining of Oz that goes far-out while not raping Baum's original vision that we'll get for a long time.

* EDIT (4/2/2008) Disc 3 Review

As a Borders-exclusive premium, you can get the DVD as a 3-disc set at Borders. While supplies last, specially marked copies also have an acetane pouch with a third disc inside the case.

The menu is not unlike the Special Features on Disc 2. We have three selections here. The first two are fancily titled interviews with Kathleen Robertson and Raoul Trujillio. These are much like the interviews on Disc 2, the actor and actress not in costume, seated in what looks like one of the sets, answering questions from the same interviewer, who we can't hear any better than we could before. Both Kathleen and Raoul interview very well, and the interviews are a little over ten minutes long each.

The other item is over a half-hour long. It shows behind-the-scenes footage of the Mystic Man's show, including a deleted item wherein Zooey Deschanel's DG asks the Mystic Man for help. (We also get a good look at some decor at the show: a pillar shaped like a cyclone with many farmhouse items being spun around in it.) However, the repeated takes of the Mystic Man's show gets old very quickly. To be sure, this gives you a taste of what it's like to work on a film, but when you're not involved, it gets dull.

As with many premium bonus DVDs, this disc is not completely satisfying, but it is nice to see these uncut interviews with Kathleen and Raoul. As afore mentioned, the behind-the-scenes of the Mystic Man gives us a realistic glimpse of how much time is taken to shoot a scene that runs for just a few minutes. Altogether, not a bad addition.

(Thanks to Sharon of Curiozity Corner for confirming the existence of the Borders DVD and identifying the material the pouch is made of.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Episodes

Wow! For the first time ever, an episode of "Returning to Oz" and an episode of "The Wonders of Oz" were released on the same day!

First off, I drank a whole quart of water last night, so I was up at 5 am to upload the 8th episode of "Wonders," here you go. (I did get some sleep after uploading.)

And later Aaron Pacentine uploaded his next episode of "Returning to Oz," which I listened to later on my mp3 player.

This panel discussion episode was originally meant to be released to CD, but Aaron and his crew decided to make it a free download instead.

In this panel discussion, Aaron, Aaron Schultz, David Reddish, Daniel Shanks, and Gabe Rodriguez get to speak with Doug Aberle, one of the claymation animators on Return to Oz.

Doug offers an impressive view on being on the inside of working on the movie, even though he was never on the set.

Aaron, Aaron, David, Daniel, and Gabe are all able to supplement their research and knowledge on the Disney movie, the MGM movie, and the Oz books to make this a thorough discussion.

Some interesting things to discover: who was the original choice for the Nome King, and, surprisingly, some word from Colonial Radio Theatre.

All in all, another solid episode, and one of the best in a long time! It's worth downloading, listening to, and listening to again! (You may feel like popping in the Return to Oz soundtrack soon after, though...)

Here's where to download the episode: (LINK)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Exciting Wonders 8 News!

I am thrilled to report that Wonders 8 has been coming along just fine.

In order for me to finish the episodes faster, I have switched to a new method for making videos (you won't notice it, I promise). I still use DivX and Windows Movie Maker. In order to have these two work in harmony, each episode is broken into segments, and each segement contains a set of photos and/or video with the audio. Each segment is saved as a video file, and when the segments are finished, I'll edit it all together into one file.

In total there are 12 segments. So far, 8 have been completed. There is a good chance I'll have it finished tomorrow!

Here is a segment I put on YouTube as a preview:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Returning to Oz Returns (Episode 29 Review)

Well, "Returning to Oz" is back after a long period of no episodes. Aaron Pacentine is back, and so is Celia Foster!

In this episode, Celia Foster reveals excellent ways to research. She also points out some information sites that are not always completely accurate. Also mentioned is collecting on eBay.

One important bit that Aaron mentions is something I have known for awhile now: the "Returning to Oz" series will be ending with episode 40.

Overall, this episode does not offer much in the way of discussing Oz. It does contain other useful information that Oz fans and researchers will find useful.

You will notice, upon downloading the episode, that the mp3 files are now hosted on the site again, so we return with the direct downloads. To download the episode, follow this link!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tin Man is on DVD!

Yep, today, you can run down and pick up a copy of Tin Man on DVD. Or, if you're ordering, you can be assured that they will ship it automatically. Or, if you pre-ordered, your DVD is on it's way! (I got my shipping notification early yesterday.)

To celebrate, here are some wildly funny videos based on Tin Man from YouTube. These are scenes from the series, except the audio has been switched out (most of the time) for sound clips from other TV shows and movies.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE WARNING: Coarse language and sexual references occur in the sound clips.

Buy Tin Man from Amazon...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Oz Comics up the Wazoo!

Okay... Let's check on the Comic Book side of Oz...

Recently, we heard that the "Dark Oz" comic book series has been optioned and all but greenlit for production as a movie. (Weird, the story of the movie sounds NOTHING like the comics.)

Eric Shanower is writing Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to be drawn by Skottie Young, this will be an 8-issue part of the "Marvel Illustrated" line. So far, we've gotten to see an wonderful preview of Dorothy and Toto:

Here is a link to an interview with Shanower and Young. (LINK)

Last night, I re-read Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew: The Oz-Wonderland War. QUITE a fun read... Though those covers are very decietful. Huh, is there a good page on this? 1 sec while I check... Nope, nothing worth linking to.

With all this, I began to realize we've heard nothing new from Illusive Arts and their Dorothy fumetti-style series for awhile...

I've also been unsuccessful in finding a copy of the Judge Dredd "Oz" story arc, even though it seems to be minimally connected to Oz.

Oh, and thanks to IWOC Forum member Vovat (I know his real name, but I'm not authorized to drop it) for turning up this piece of artwork for (presumably) the front cover of the first issue of The Land of Oz: The Manga by David Hutchinson...

Land of Oz: the Manga by *Dhutchison on deviantART

Wow... So this year, we have two new Oz adaptations in comics that are sure to be great! Now to head over to Vintage Stock and try to make them act like a REAL comic shop!

And now to top it off with this ORIGINAL Oz comic panel by Sam Milazzo, inspired by my use of a certain quote from The Dukes of Hazzard TV show:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Where's Wonders 8?

I was getting one episode of "Wonders" out a month, but February has come and gone, and still no episode.

What is taking so long?

As you have noticed, the narration is not done by me. The reason for this is that I have trouble making my voice sound steady while recording. (When I recorded the "Wonders" introduction, the final sound was the product of many re-takes and tricky editing.)

All past episodes have been narrated by Aaron Pacentine, with the occassional guest appearance of J. Matt Bloom.

Recently, both have moved their homes elsewhere, and both are still getting their home internet services set up. In addition, I have only approached Aaron with the narration for this episode.

However, Aaron has come up with a way that would let him get the narration to me without using the internet. I am awaiting the narration before I make the episode.

Meanwhile, I got to figure out how to get my computer back up to snuff...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Bedtime Story

Hey, I found this video on YouTube tonight, and it's a commercial for the Mego Wizard of Oz dolls based on the MGM movie. (Good job to the uploader for making it look good for a transfer from a 30-year old video tape.)

I rather like the way this was done. (Huh... The commercial is about 30 years old? Either commercials were REALLY long back then, or this is composed of several shorter ones.) It's a nice touch, framing it as a bedtime story to a little girl. VERY classic Oz.

I once saw a doll from this series for sale. It was the Tin Man. Did I want it? You bet! Did I get it? No way! (Sigh...) Ah, well. It probably wound up with a *collector* who would actually take care of it. (I was... eight? Nine?) Besides, it would have been thrown out with the rest of my Oz collection later. (Thanks, Mom... You want to know how much I could have sold those items for now?)