Monday, April 06, 2015

Return to Oz Blu-Ray review

Well, Return to Oz is now on Blu-Ray, and although the official release date is April 14, people who ordered it as soon as it was available are getting their copies now.

Return to Oz's Blu-Ray is an exclusive from Disney Movie Club. Exclusives are typically titles that seem to have limited customer bases. Which it seems most of Disney's live action catalog that dates before 1990 is a part of...

This means these titles aren't being treated to high profile home video releases. These are plain vanilla releases. Disney does do a nice digital master of the title, however, and there are English subtitles. So basically, when you buy an exclusive movie title from Disney Movie Club, that's what you're getting.

The movie.

I'd seen Return to Oz in HD before, digital high definition through Vudu. However, there are limitations to streaming HD in that the compression rate can limit some of the actual detail. Vudu's version had some speckles and artifacts in the beginning, and the Nome King's face on the mountainside looked like it was added in. Blu-Ray, however, has better compression rates.

I suspect most of my blog readers already know about Return to Oz, but if not, here goes:

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) has not been able to sleep since returning to Kansas after the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Concerned Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) takes her to get an experimental new therapy, but during an accident, Dorothy escapes the hospital and finds her way to Oz with a talking chicken named Billina. Finding the yellow brick road torn up, the Emerald City falling to ruin and all the people turned to stone, Dorothy and Billina join with Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead to save Oz from the clutches of Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh), her Wheelers, and the wicked Nome King (Nicol Williamson).

Return to Oz was not a hit, mismarketed by Disney as a fun Oz sequel, when it was more in the vein of The Dark Crystal, Legend, The NeverEnding Story and the soon-to-arrive Labyrinth. With some well-handled creature effects and claymation (everything you see in the film was actually in front of a camera), great performances, and a beautiful score by David Shire, Return to Oz truly deserves a classic status that has eluded it so far. It also ensured that first-time director Walter Murch never got a directing job again.

So, how does Return to Oz look on Blu-Ray? The answer is that it's great. The issues I noted with the digital version are gone, the 5.1 audio mix is nice and clear, and the film grain is intact. This level of clarity can be a revelation sometimes (I didn't realize that Dr. Worley's ring's gem was that round), but overall just offers a nice, clearer picture for HD displays, but otherwise similar to the version that's been available on Disney's DVD the past 11 years.

The Blu-Ray is an improvement on the DVD's presentation. In the older restoration, presumably carried out by Anchor Bay and reused by Disney, the film was artificially lightened, presumably to keep colors from looking too drab on DVD and VHS. With Blu-Ray's higher picture size and better color range, now a more accurate presentation is available, retaining the darker tones of the original film.

While Disney is not likely to flank Return to Oz with bonus features other 80s fantasy films (see above) have enjoyed, Oz fans, Disney fans and fantasy fans who want their movies in high definition would do well to pick up the Blu-Ray.

You can see some HD screencaps here.

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