Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wizard of Oz's 80th Anniversary: What Do We Want & What Can We Expect?

The Wizard of Oz (the MGM movie, that is) will be eighty years old in 2019. Warner Bros. commemorated its 70th and 75th anniversaries with home video and theatrical re-releases as well as a variety of merchandise, promotional events, and collectible offerings. Given that the 75th anniversary of the film was mostly celebrated in 2013, almost a full year before its actual anniversary, it's time to start thinking about what might be in store for the 80th anniversary. What do we want to see that we haven't seen before? What don't we want to see? And what can we expect to see come 2018 and 2019? All good questions.

Let's start with what we can expect to see from the Brothers Warner. It's pretty much a lock at this point that the next home video re-release will include 4K ("Ultra HD") Blu-ray. The format has certainly become more popular in the years since the 75th anniversary release, and we know for a fact that such a print of the film (in 8K resolution, actually) already exists. The question, though, is whether or not the 80th anniversary release will include Blu-ray 3D as well. I'm quite the advocate for the format and for 3D in general, but the reality is that I'm in the minority there. 3D TVs are no longer being made, and it's becoming less and less of a certainty that every major home video release will include Blu-ray 3D, even if it was previously available in that format. The latest home video release of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, for example, does not include Blu-ray 3D, even though the one prior (the "Diamond" edition) did.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the MGM film's 80th anniversary will nearly coincide (if all goes to plan) with the release of the long-awaited Wicked movie, which is currently slated for December 20, 2019. Since Wicked will likely be in public consciousness even more so than usual, I wouldn't be surprised to see the witches, especially the Wicked Witch, front and center in whatever merchandise and promotional material comes along with The Wizard of Oz's 80th anniversary. (The packaging of the 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, for example, was clearly inspired by Wicked, which makes sense given the popularity of the musical at that time.)

Okay, so we've established that I (and at least a handful of other Oz fans that I know of) would like for the film to continue to be available in 3D. But what else do we (I) want?

On the home video front, I'd like to see the next release focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of physical extras. The 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition included far too many unsubstantial "collectible" items, presumably to justify a high price point. Sure, the photo book is nice, but what purpose does it have when a better, more comprehensive companion book is available separately? The pins are nice, too, but their inclusion in a home video box set makes little sense. The Ruby Slipper "sparkler globe" and Wicked Witch of the East flash drive are even more out of place here and are so cheaply made that they're by no means worthy of the adjective "collectible."


The physical extras included with the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, in my opinion, were generally of higher quality than those included with the 75th, but still I question the reason for including something like a wristwatch in a home video release. It's true that a shiny, bulky box set looks nicer and more "collectible" on the shelf, but I'd like for what's inside to feel less like things you'd put in a Christmas stocking.

In terms of bonus features, I'd definitely like to see everything from the previous releases carried over to this one. I feel like Disney has been shortchanging consumers by re-releasing many of its titles with less bonus features than previous home video releases, and I'd hate for Warner Bros. to do the same here. I'm glad to see that the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic has recently been made available on its own after being excluded from the 75th anniversary release, but yes, I think it should absolutely be included in the next release.

I'm actually pretty happy with the various featurettes and documentaries that Warner Bros. has put together over the years, but I wouldn't mind seeing a new one that delves a bit deeper into Oz outside of the 1939 film (spanning the books, other adaptations, the Oz community, etc.). I think a Judy Garland-centric documentary of some sort could be interesting and would appeal to a lot of people, too.


Essentially all previous releases of the film have included "Outtakes and Deleted Scenes," but I think these are worth taking another stab at for the next release. The "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" reprise have been paired with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, but the images are of very poor quality, and they even suffer from some bizarre digital distortion that's difficult to describe but results in portions of the image being duplicated in random places. (See here and here.) I'm fairly sure that I've seen those images elsewhere without that problem, so I don't think it would be too difficult to correct.

The famously deleted musical sequence "The Jitterbug" was incorporated into the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which has brought out curiosity among fans about the possibility of recreating some of the many deleted scenes from the original film with animation or, at the very least, storyboards/animatics. It's definitely not something that we need to have, but it would be fun to see what these scenes could have looked like. Maybe each one could have a brief introduction (by someone like John Fricke or TCM's Ben Mankiewicz) to provide a little context?

Ted Esbaugh's Wizard of Oz cartoon has been included in every home video release of the 1939 film since at least 2005, but since the 75th anniversary release, it has been restored in high-definition and released in a collection of similar animated short films by a company called Thunderbean Animation, dubbed Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares. I personally do not own this collection, but from what I've seen and heard of it from people who do, it's a pretty substantial upgrade in terms of quality. (You can check out Jared's review of that here, which includes some screenshots for comparison.) I don't think it's necessary to do, but I think it would be nice to see the restored version of that cartoon on the 80th anniversary release. It's just a matter of whether or not Warner Bros. is willing to spend a little extra money to make that happen.

I'll admit that I personally don't watch the DVD discs since I can watch the movie either on Blu-ray or digitally, but it would be nice if Warner Bros. put in a little extra effort and created new DVD menus, which have not changed since the 2005 release. They don't have to be anything too special, but they should at least reflect the packaging and overall branding for the 80th anniversary.

On the subject of branding, a complaint that I and many other Oz fans have had in recent years is the lack of quality in the artwork used for the film's merchandise, packaging, and promotional material. This isn't exactly a new problem with Warner Bros. in my opinion, but I do think it's gotten worse as of late, and I really would like to see improvement in this area come the 80th anniversary. I'd be happy as a clam at high tide if I never had to see these stiff, garish, and overused digital recreations of the cast again. Eeesh. (Ever heard about The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, this 2017 calendar is exemplary of that.)

The film is still aired on television several times each year as it has been for decades, but how nice would it be for this to be approached more as a "television event" than it has been in recent years? Warner Bros. could strike a deal with a major network like NBC or CBS to air the film, perhaps accompanied by some sort of special, exclusive content along the lines of what TCM often does, serving up some legitimate trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the film deserves more respect than the ridiculous ad campaign that TBS delivered when it aired the film last year...


At the end of the day, I think what we all want is for Warner Bros. to treat the film, and its fans, with respect (which isn't to say that they've necessarily failed to do so in the past). Most of us will continue to shell out the money for new collectibles and home video releases, but that loyalty shouldn't be taken for granted. Quality over quantity, always. (I'm looking at you, too, Hallmark...)

1 comment:

Wade Kirby said...

Loved your blog post on the 80th re-issue of The Wizard of Oz, I think 4K up-grade print would be incredible. And here's a new idea, for bonus material...how about a five minute documentary on the original carriage used in the city of Oz scenes. (Did you know, that the carriage was originally owned by Abraham Lincoln at the White House, during the Civil War)! Easy to film, and accomplish! How's that? Wade Kirby.