Thursday, October 03, 2013

The new Oz Blu-Ray!

 So, my copy of the new 75th anniversary Blu-Ray edition of The Wizard of Oz arrived. It's actually titled The Wizard of Oz 3D since it features the new 3D conversion of the movie on its home video release.

Also, this is the first time the movie's been released with an Ultraviolet code for its digital copy. I've mentioned Ultraviolet before, and I find the idea of streaming a movie to watch it on a computer or digital device to be more preferable than the old Digital Copy concept (which Warner Brothers used in the last re-release in 2009) of placing a large video file on your computer.

Now, to be exact, this is 2013, so this is actually the 74th anniversary. However, we simply have to consider this edition to be released in anticipation of the 75th anniversary. As I said on Facebook once, if you have a 3D setup, you can enjoy the new 3D version all through 2014.

I do not have a 3D setup, but I decided to get the new box set anyway. I enjoyed the 3D version at a theater, so I assume that the disc version looks just as good, just the screen is smaller. (Also your specific 3D setup might affect how the movie looks.)

The movie's presentation

MGM's The Wizard of Oz debuted on Blu-Ray in 2009 and was met to much critical acclaim, and sure, the film grain is presented, coming as close as you'd get to actually screening a film copy in your home as we'll get until Ultra High Definition comes out. (I joked about that, but turns out it's actually being developed.) This same transfer has been re-utilized in this new set.

However, sharp eyed viewers have noted issues with the lauded transfer: there's a few lines present during the opening credits (not too badly noticeable, but still there) that were likely "scratches" from a projector. This is removable, so I assume Warner Brothers' restorers missed it. Other issues were noticed, mainly problems with how they felt the movie should look. Probably the biggest is that as Glinda leaves Munchkinland, part of the picture has a stuck portion. These issues are not major, but, as film enthusiasts note, these errors should be corrected to maintain the integrity of the movie, one of the biggest movies ever made.

To the indignation of film enthusiasts, these errors were corrected for the 3D version of the movie, leaving us with the baffling issue, why wasn't that restoration used for the new 2D disc? The disc has been re-authored and is not a straight reissue of the 2009 disc.You can view the 3D version as a 2 dimensional image, but you'd need a 3D disc player and 3D television or adapter to do so.

The audio, however, is actually a new mix. All dialogue is in the center audio channel, while the music has been remixed for surround sound home theater systems. For a very long time, movies only had monaural (one channel) audio mix, so this isn't exactly how the movie sounded in 1939. A tiny portion of audio has been missing from the movie since the 1998 theatrical release and subsequent home video releases. As Miss Gulch is taking Toto, Dorothy said "Oh, To, oh Toto." In 1998, it was considered an accidental stutter in the audio mix due to a reel change at that point so it was excised. However, film enthusiasts note, as the film was exhibited with that audio for over 50 years, it at least should have been made available, like, say, on the "original mono track" feature.

Special features, discs 1 and 2

Onto bonus features! The 3D disc contains all of the alternate audio tracks that the standard Blu-Ray disc contains. These are the 2005 audio commentary with John Fricke, a "music and effects" track (allowing you to view the movie without dialogue) and the "original mono track."

The press release wasn't in depth about the special features, saying that "all previously released special features" would be retained. This, however, was found not to be the case as observant fans got their copies: the Angela Lansbury-hosted TV special The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic (present in all DVD and Blu-Ray releases since 1999) has been dropped in favor of a new 70 minute documentary titled The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For the completist home video collector, we shall be hanging onto our old DVD or Blu-Ray editions to keep it.

That said, the new feature is not a brash usurper, offering a more focused look at the creation of the movie than the Lansbury special, as well as a number of experts and Munchkins and archival audio and footage. The tiny extant bit of the deleted "Triumphant Return" sequence (from a trailer) is presented in likely the highest quality possible. All footage from non-widescreen sources (except a couple zoom-ins) have a curtain design on the sides to fill in the picture on widescreen television sets.

The rest of the re-authored disc contains familiar bonus materials from previous releases, but dropping some major stuff. The audio-only features, supporting cast career profile videos, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook, stills gallery and trailers have been retained, but the remaining features from the 2009 disc have been moved to disc 3. This was probably done due to the fact that the new making of feature is in high definition. This means, though, that the more affordable standalone disc has less special features than its 2009 counterpart.

Special features, disc 3

So, yes, everything else is on disc 3: the remaining documentaries and featurettes introduced in the 2005 DVD and 2009 Blu-Ray, the deleted scenes and home movies, the far from pristine transfer of The Dreamer of Oz, vintage featurettes for MGM studio publicity, excerpts from Off To See The Wizard, and the same versions of the silent Oz films and the 1933 cartoon that we've had before. I find it rather disappointing that the only way to get this disc is to purchase this large set. Unlike 2009's DVD, English subtitles are included on most features.

DVD Copy

The fourth disc is a DVD copy of the movie, and to be honest, I kind of wish it hadn't been included. Although I stuck with DVD for a very long time, this disc is a simple reissue of the 2009 DVD, which was a modified version of the 2005 DVD. I still have my DVD collection from then, so I actually have no use for it. It exclusively contains "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz," a featurette from the 2005 DVD restoration that was obsolete and yet retained in the 2009 editions as they used the new high definition print as the source. (In my own opinion, as film grain doesn't look good on DVD's limited resolution, the 2005 version is the best the movie has looked on that format.)

Disc 5

Disc 5 I have yet to peruse, but it is the four-hour documentary MGM: When The Lion Roars on a dual-sided DVD. There are a number of features I now think could be added to a future re-release: the 1932 Land of Oz Meglin Kiddies short, existing celebrity wraparounds from early TV showings of the movie, expanded audio features including the audio commentaries from the "Ultimate Oz" and Criterion Collection laserdisc editions of the movie ("Ultimate Oz" also contained a number of audio outtakes from the movie not included on any subsequent DVD or Blu-Ray), a biographical piece on Judy Garland, and now that it's gone, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. If the next re-release is still on Blu-Ray, I'd like to see all of the features in this paragraph on a disc.

What else is in the box?

 Like the 2005 and 2009 collector's sets, non-disc goodies are included. Pictures from a friend's set can be seen at this blog entry, so I won't be photographing my set.

The physical bonuses include a hardcover journal, a timeline of the film's production by John Fricke that has been heavily illustrated and presented as a book, a Ruby Slipper sparkle globe (that lights up with a red glow), and a pin collection.

There is also a print showing Dorothy standing on the bridge in Munchkinland that is listed as a "photo card," but on the back, it doubles as an advertisement for the new book by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. The same advertisement can be found in the timeline book.

There is also a map of Oz, which mashes up the Oz geography from the books (the four countries and their colors), the film's plot and location names from Wicked. I was not too pleased to see that. The route of the Yellow Brick Road is far too winding and complicated: instead of going straight to the Emerald City, it winds around Oz, showing the Scarecrow in a Gillikin Cornfield and the Tin Woodman in a Gillikin Forest that reaches into the Winkie Country and turns into the Haunted Forest. The northern part (which isn't so bad, I guess) is where the Cowardly Lion lives. Finally, the approach to the Emerald City runs through the Quadling Country, where Glinda's palace is shown.

Whoever designed this map should think about what it means to the plot of the movie. Dorothy went on a long, winding road that actually takes her into the domain of the Wicked Witch of the West to get to the Emerald City. She could have cut across country and made a far shorter trip. The straightforward road Baum created makes far more sense. And the inclusion of locations from Wicked is going to be irksome to any Baum fan, though the nutty fans of the musical who want to see it as "canon" with the movie are going to be glad.

My major gripe is that there isn't a printed index of the discs' rather extensive contents, much less a chapter list for the movie. They did stop making those a while ago, but I rather miss them as it was nice to have them on hand to refer to. (The menus also no longer title the chapters, they only give them numbers.) One would think that this could have been included in the timeline book. Or perhaps instead of the journal (a plain affair), they could have presented another edition of the movie's shooting script with that index included.

The discs come housed in a standard Blu-Ray case that's just a little thicker than average cases. This means it won't stick out too badly if you put on a shelf with your other Blu-Rays.
My current collection of Oz Blu-Ray titles.

Should I buy it?

Perhaps, as they did in 2009, Warner Brothers will release the discs on their own from this massive set, but no announcement has been made yet.

If you're not interested in the non-disc goodies this time around (understandable as it contains little aside from Fricke's timeline book to interest a film buff), and you have the Ultimate Collector's Edition or Emerald Edition from 2009, then you can get the 3D version and the new documentary simply by purchasing the standalone 3D edition. If you want to pass on the 3D one but still get the new documentary, then get the new standalone Blu-Ray or the new 2-disc DVD set if you don't mind that documentary not being in high definition. And if you're not interested in that documentary at all and you do have the 2009 set, then feel free to pass this time.

As this is my first time purchasing the movie on Blu-Ray, I do feel a little more justified in the purchase, but considering the dropping of a major feature from past editions and the rather underwhelming new content, it wasn't an entirely exciting re-release.

1 comment:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Thanks for giving this a thorough going-over.