Monday, June 20, 2016

Return to Oz - in HD

In a couple of days, WB will release "Tom and Jerry Back to Oz" on DVD.

But Oz historians will know that this is not the first Oz-related film to be released on June 21st.  That honour goes to Disney's "Return to Oz" ... and I am glad to finally provide you with my review of the Blu-ray restoration (with comparisons to its DVD predecessor).

(Any errors or gaps in descriptions will be corrected upon more current viewing - and if there is a chance of my computer getting the treatment needed to screenshot Blu-rays, those pictures will also be updated)

COVER ART:  The front cover (nicely made and better than the previous Disney DVD cover art) uses the theme design of the characters near the top of the title with a rainbow above the Emerald City.
Note, however, that characters such as Dorothy and Scarecrow have been modified from their original photo sources - Scarecrow is no longer holding the green ornament that would be restored to the form of the Gump (who, unfortunately, is absent from the cover, despite being a key and important character) and Dorothy's face has been composited with one where she is actually smiling.
And the Emerald City model is actually from an existing poster, back in the day of its advertising.  Possibly inaccurate to the film's portrayal, ruin or restored, but a neat throwback anyway.  But the yellow brick road is too sharp and clear and vague by comparison.
Also unusual is the sunset sky.

Also note how there appears to be some form of grassy slope on the left side of the characters.
(I plan on doing a picture showing "annotations" of the character compilation)

MENU:   The Main (and only) Menu looks identical to the old Disney menu, but has subtle differences.  In another throwback, the Title box also uses the design from the DVD's cover art.

screenshot of the Disney DVD Menu
iPhone photo of Blu-Ray Menu

SCENE SELECTION:   The Blu-ray scene selection / chapter index is the same as the Disney DVD (12 chapters, as opposed to Anchor Bay's more specific 24 listing).
Oddly, the image used for "Three Chances" on the Blu-ray is different (and inaccurate) from what the DVD selection has.

VIDEO + AUDIO:   One of the most notable things about the past releases was how much the film needed cleaning:  There were scratches and dirt, spots and specks scattered throughout the picture, quite often more on shots with special effects than normal scenes.

Fortunately, the picture is much better. 
The scratches and dirt are gone,
you can see the slowly swirling green mist in the opening title more clearly,
the lines are crisp and the detail is more apparent.  It is amazing what you discover with this new transfer from the DVD upon a more HD viewing.
Moments where something was really bright, such as the candle in Aumt Em's lamp or the ceiling lightbulbs in Doctor Worley's treatment room, have better clarity and show detail without getting lost or vague in their brightness.  Even the sunlight on the broken yellow brick road has some definition.
Now of course the film isn't a very colourful one, but the colours are actually a bit more vibrant here:  Billina's feathers and some of the Wheelers' clothing is a bit more noticeable and colourful.
Not to mention the Ruby Slippers SPARKLE beautifully, as are the little gems on the bows more apparent. And Princess Mombi's gown looks even more gorgeous.
  The "DISNEY CASTLE" intro is smoother and the main title does not have any blotches or specks that plagued the past DVD/s, nor does that opening shot or the closing scene have any mild tremors or shakes.  There was a hair on the bottom of the screen as Dorothy nervously awaited the "treatment" to begin ... that flickering hair has been removed.
The film also gains a slightly different hue / hint:  By comparison, the old Anchor Bay / Disney DVDs looked slightly pink, but the Blu-ray gives it a slightly more earthy texture, which is fitting for the Kansas scenes and actually a bit more natural for the Oz scenes (especially the underground Nome Kingdom).

As is often the case with Blu-ray HD, it allows a better and improved viewing over the DVD.
Scenes that were dark have some more definition to see hidden details, the noisy soundtrack is now clearer and has more clarification - which it appropriately should because the Director, Walter Murch, was and is a Sound Editor himself (if you knew the story of how he got the sound effect of Jack falling through the air onto his body on the Mountain - it adds a whole new perspective), so the new sound is quite satisfactory (although the "caws" as Dorothy runs through the forest is not as loud or clear like the DVD).

The Kansas River scene, in which Dorothy and "Kansas Ozma" (Kozma, or K-Ozma, I call her) is less noisy but still loud, only this time with clarity where the music is not overwhelming or drowning out the sounds and dialogue.
Likewise the scenes where Dorothy eludes the headless Mombi and the attempt to escape from the Nomes are also benefited from this remaster.  Little background noises are made clearer and add depth to the scenes - you can hear footsteps, rustlings, breathing, the Nomes gasping when Billina peeks out of Jack's upside-down head, even the joyous ringing bells of the restored Emerald City are more prominent and noticeable; whereas before on DVD the sound was never loud or clear enough at all, no matter the volume.

Scenes where the brightness has been toned down is best shown when Dorothy is waving good-bye to her friends.   So that shot with Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead, along with the people of Oz, as they say good-bye to Dorothy looks different.
On DVD the scene starts to brighten after Dorothy turns to Ozma saying "I haven't even said good-bye yet!" and it gets to a point where Dorothy's close-up is almost completely whited out.
Screenshot of Dorothy's waving good-bye, on the Disney DVD

On Blu-ray the brightness doesn't start to take effect till after Dorothy cries out "I love you all!" and waves, where we can clearly see her emotional face and the blurrying background behind her.  

iPhone photo of Dorothy's wave good-bye, on the Blu-ray

One of the things I noticed on the DVDs was that some scenes, some specific shots, were missing a couple of frames mid-action.   These shots were Billina first seeing Tik-Tok, Dorothy's foot kicking Princess Mombi's shin and the Gump breaking apart amidst the clouds.
I had hoped that upon restoration those scenes would be COMPLETELY restored, allowing those few frames to make the shots flow more smoothly without jumps.
Unfortunately . . . no new frames have been added or put back in.  Although the Disney Castle does seem a bit less sudden.

Likewise, the scene where Tik-Tok's landing on the Nome King's Mountain, is still left untouched, imperfectly cut and rushed.   And you can still (or now more clearly?) see the wires attached to the Gump in the fogged scenes, or when the other items fall past / land onscreen.
Only the wires attached to "Dorothy" (or Fairuza's stunt double) as she lands mercifully on the sofa on the Mountain, have been removed.
See the BLANK SCRIBBLED area for the space Tik-Tok will fill in. 
Why couldn't they have captured a shot of the mountain WITHOUT Tik-Tok first, before his "landing"?

But I can say that some frames have been fixed for the better, thanks to this restoration.
In two particular scenes (if you watch them in slow-motion frame-by-frame), Dorothy's medium close-up after seeing her old wind-blown house from the back and Dorothy walking down the hall into the Ornament Room, had slightly wonky frames that quickly stretch or warp at the beginning of those shots.  On Blu-ray, they are cleaned and straightened and no longer faulty.

What's also interesting about this restoration is how it treats the Hall of Heads special effect scenes: both when Princess Mombi changes her head and when her headless body rises from the bed, walking zombie-like towards Dorothy:
The Blu-ray has some "blacking" in the area underneath the heads when they are lifted from their cabinets, while the area where Jean Marsh's head is absent has ... well, you can almost get the idea of how they altered it after filming.

As has been stated before, this disk has no Special Features or Bonuses.

Therefore, the movie no longer has Fairuza Balk's Introduction, which actually replaced the Castle Logo on the even OLDer Anchor Bay DVD (but came before, without replacing, the Disney Logo on the Disney DVD).
No Trailers, No TV Spots, No Interviews.  Just the regular "Sneak Peaks" as the disk opens (unless you skip them).

  This is my first "Disney Exclusive" and I am not too bothered by it, as the film's presentation in video and sound is pleasant enough (yes, despite the points I revealed above).

So while it's not entirely perfect in complete restoration or bonus packaging, the Blu-ray for "Return to Oz" is still a must and an appreciated have.

Hope you enjoyed my review - I plan on doing one for the 2-disk "Definitive" Soundtrack too!

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