Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A lovely Oz poster!

I don't normally post links to merchandise, but I got a link to this poster e-mailed to me today:

This poster was created for the Winkie Convention this year, used for the back cover of the convention book. (I remember looking at it and wondering where it came from.)

If you're interested, here is a link to where you can buy one directly from the artist, Jed Alexander. It's $14 USD, plus shipping. I'd buy one now if I wasn't moving.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bits of Oz

Sorry for not blogging in awhile. Haven't had many Ozzy topics on my mind recently.

Something that may be of interest to some readers is that I'm moving in with Audrey and Shaun, my sister and her husband, so we can help each other out. It'll be beneficial to us all. It might even loosen up finances enough for me to finally make it to an Oz convention next year!

I read an Oz book I bought, The Ork in Oz. A pretty fun story, a few faults (including that the author overlooked the Ork's name in The Scarecrow of Oz and gave him a new name, though the name Baum gave the Ork is pretty easy to miss...), illustrations not exactly to my liking, but overall, a good book.

I've also been working on the next podcast and the Oz book I'm writing. I got the plot figured out, and written the first two chapters' first draft. Don't expect me to put the book here, though, as I think it might be a fun story to read in book form. (There will be a free PDF, though.)

I've also been messing about with OpenOffice, free software that includes a word processing program, and been using it to design books to give to my family at Christmas.

And I've taken a few shots at The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, the English translation of the DS game Riz-Zoawd. Nice music, nice graphics, but I've some problems. Coins are hard to find, and weapons and armor upgrades are kind of pricey. ("Money in Oz? What a strange idea! Do you think we are so vulgar as to use money here?") It's difficult to tell where you're going, where you've been, and although the trackball control is interesting, it gets a bit hard to handle.

My biggest problem are the battle scenes. I've played some turn-based battle games before, but this is the strangest I've seen it. You select which characters will fight, what they will do, and let your round of "turns" go from there. I've had times when a character will go in with a pretty high health bar and will "fall" in battle. The lack of being able to control exactly what you will do on each turn and it being unpredictable how many attacks the enemies will make during the round makes it pretty difficult. You can't make the characters defend themselves when they're being attacked, so the cost is heavy. (You can set a character to a defensive mode, but seeing as that would make them do nothing, you'll either have them attack or you'd use another character.)

Welcome to an Oz where money is there, but rare, and death is common.

Probably the most fun is you get to name your characters. My party consisted of Dorothy, Strashee, Lion, and Nick. (The Lion joins you after the Scarecrow here.)

All that Oz and nothing to say...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A little bonus

Here's a little behind-the-scenes clip from the first podcast. (I'm working on getting the next complete episode finished soon.) Visit the site here, or just use the player below, to hear a giggling American, a distracted Aussie, and a tired yet amused Scot:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heavy Oz Crossword #2

Sorry folks. I had to update this one. There was a blank square that was placed in a rather confusing location, and one word had one too many spaces, so I took it out. (It should not affect the rest of the crossword.) If you've already printed your crossword, just mark out those boxes by comparing your printed one with the one that's on here right now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My take on MGM

With the 70th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz winding down, I managed to finally collect my thoughts about it.

MGM's The Wizard of Oz isn't one of my favorite movies, Oz or otherwise, but I do enjoy it. I've read a large percentage of L. Frank Baum's works that I guess my view of Oz is pretty tainted by it... (Which is an odd term, considering that they inspired the MGM movie.)

The MGM movie is a tribute to the themes of Baum's story as much as it is an adaptation. It also pays a large tribute to the popular stage production, in its songs, costumes, and set designs. And it was made suitable for people of the late 1930's, and somehow has managed to entertain and delight audiences to this day.

But it's not my Oz! But that doesn't mean I hate it.

Baum created an entire fantasy world in his works, not just limited to Oz. From bordering countries outside the Deadly Desert to islands to places in the sky to kingdoms under the sea and underground. This world was expansive and opened the doors for many stories, only a few of which I believe he actually got to tell.

Although he made Oz a place where anything could (and did) happen, Baum set rules for his stories that followed logic mixed with nonsense. Somehow, he found the right balance that enchanted readers for 20 years. This is an element I've found missing in many Oz stories after Baum's initial fourteen.

In the MGM film, Baum's amazing world is made into a dream, that, like I mentioned above, owes a lot to stage traditions of musicals and set and costume design. While I can understand the need of this for the film audience of the day, for a well-read Baum enthusiast like yours truly, it's kind of a put-off.

All the same, it is a tribute to Baum's world and how it could be adapted to film, with songs and vibrant color. That's why I don't despise it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Wizard of Oz - 70th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

All right, let's jump into this...

MGM's The Wizard of Oz has enjoyed a long life in movie theaters, on television, and, through the past 30 years, home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, it's appeared on every home video format. Just last Tuesday, it made it's Blu-Ray debut, continuing its pattern of continuing on into the next home video format.

However, I did not buy the Blu-Ray, as I am not equipped with HD playback hardware. I did, however, get the DVD.

This is the first DVD release to have the film and special features encompass four discs. Most DVD releases use dual-layer (or DVD-9) discs, which can usually present four hours of high-quality video, but usually, most releases restrict it to about three.

Owners of the 2005 3-disc release will be struck with Deja Vu as they pop in the first disc. The menus are the same as that release, the only new special feature being a singalong feature.

The other difference from this and the 2005 disc is that the version of the movie used is different. This is taken from the new high-definition restoration, but as there is only so much DVD can show, the restoration is likely best appreciated on Blu-Ray. Here, the historic feel of the film is restored by retaining the film grain. However, there have been some touch-ups done. Some wires have been removed. (E.g. The wire animating the Cowardly Lion's tail, which I didn't notice until the 2005 release, was visible during "If I Were King Of The Forest" but has now been removed.) Overall, the way the film looks is excellent, but I'm not ready to pitch my copy of the 2005 release yet.

I found it odd that one special feature on Disc 1 was simply repeated: "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz" relates how the film was restored for the 2005 release. As this is a completely new restoration, the retaining of this feature feels odd.

Another odd thing is that while the supporting cast of The Wizard of Oz is profiled in a series of features called We Haven't Really Met Properly, no biographical information about the star, Judy Garland, is presented anywhere on the set. Also retained is an animated storybook adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, narrated by Angela Lansbury and using the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow, the audio commentary, as well as an isolated score and effects track, and the original mono audio track.

The singalong feature, for most viewers and movie collectors, is not of much interest. You can choose to watch the movie with subtitles that change color in time with the songs, or watch clips with the songs and the subtitles running.

Disc 2 is a complete copy of the second disc of the 2005 editions, down to the menus. All of the special features are the same. As this is also the second disc of the special 2-disc release, it offers an array of special features that would make a 2-disc set satisfying. Notable features are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, Memories of Oz, Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz, deleted scenes (though only one, an extended version of "If I Only Had A Brain," is a true deleted scene), test footage, trailers, and a variety of audio-only features.

Disc 3 offers new material for owners of the 2005 3-disc set. First off is a career profile of director Victor Fleming, the director who received the sole screen credit for The Wizard of Oz. Given that it encompasses his entire career, and not just Oz, I was expecting it to also appear on Gone With The Wind's upcoming release. I've since discovered that it is not listed among the features on that release.

Also new is a 10-minute segment covering the Munchkins receiving their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's a great tribute to what may sadly be one the diminutive actors' last big events.

Then, there's the movie The Dreamer of Oz from 1990. This has never been released to home video, but the copy Warner Brothers procured for the release was sadly not of the highest quality. There's a flickering scan line effect going on, and the picture almost looks double-exposed, with one exposure slightly off register, and a little faint. It is a watchable release, however.

The Dreamer of Oz follows L. Frank Baum from the time he met Maud Gage to the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is told by Maud Gage Baum at the premiere of the 1939 movie to a reporter who recognizes her. (The 1939 scenes are in black and white, while the scenes retelling Baum's life are in color.) However, the movie is a dramatization of someone's life, and as usual, many points are fictionalized. Perhaps I find these more irritating than most viewers would, as I've done a lot of research about Baum and his works, but I tend to take Dreamer only for entertainment value.

The disc is rounded out with three features from 2005's third disc: the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz silent film, Ted Eshbaugh's 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon, and a documentary about Baum's life that made its debut on the 2005 set.

Disc four is Warner Brother's version of a DVD set that has been released and re-released by many different companies: it presents the four silent features based on the Oz stories.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz was the first film produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and here, you get a clean transfer. However, the feature has not been scored, and the elegant title screen, missing or marred in other releases, is shown darkly (although it is seen clearly in disc 3's Baum documentary).

The Magic Cloak of Oz is actually an adaptation of Baum's Queen Zixi of Ix, given a bit of an Oz connection in name only. (The book was part of Baum's extended Oz universe, so it's not too much of a stretch.) Warner's release here now offers the longer version that has been previously only been in private collections and screened at Oz conventions. It is longer with more shots, and some humorous scenes. Sadly, it shares Patchwork Girl's problem of no scoring, and the transfer is rather dark, and some intertitles are very hard to read.

The other two features, His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz from 1914, and the 1925 silent fiasco The Wizard of Oz from Larry Semon, are directly ported over from the 2005 sets, with scorings. An improvement over the last set is that chapter breaks are now present for all the silent features.

There is also a digital copy disc with a standard definition copy of the MGM movie. I have not evaluated this, as I do not have a portable video device and do not intend to keep the movie on my computer.

The four discs are housed in folding case, that lists the special features, is colored mainly in green and silver, and decorated with a photograph, artwork, and some quotes. Each of the discs shows Dorothy and one of her four friends as she met them.

When it comes to new material, some owners of the 2005 3-disc may feel disappointed, or put off of getting this set.

There were several printed materials included with the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition, but none of these are reproduced here. Instead, we have a scaled-down reproduction of the original lavish campaign book for advertising aid to promote the film, the production budget is reproduced, and there is a 52-page full-color book by John Fricke about the production of the film, something, he even notes, has already been very well documented. My copy had some weird black streaks on some of the pages. There is also the watch in a tin. With a green strap, it has a beautiful faceplate. (My wrists are too large for it, though.)

This is all housed in a lavish box decorated with publicity photographs. The box set containing the DVDs can be lifted out and stored on a shelf (and the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition can be put in its place).

Overall, a nice package!