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.

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