Friday, August 23, 2019

The Wizard of Oz 4K - October 29, 2019

Preorders for a 4K edition of MGM's The Wizard of Oz are now available, dated for October 29, 2019. The movie will have the distinction of being the oldest film on the UHD format.

4K Blu-Ray or UHD (Ultra High Definition) is the latest physical home video format, with an image width of nearly four thousand pixels allowing for clear detail and HDR processing allowing for more vivid color range.

Warner Brothers has yet to detail this new edition, but the lack of a moratorium on previous editions of the title should let fans and collectors know that this is simply a 4K release of the movie.

Many 4K titles—both new releases and catalog titles—are released with a 4K disc that usually contains only the movie in 4K with HDR, looking simply amazing. It's basically a case by case basis as to if alternate audio tracks such as audio commentary are included. No bonuses are usually on the disc. (There have been 4K discs with some bonuses included on the 4K disc, but the ones I can recall reading about were from Lionsgate and Sony, not Warner Brothers.)

Included is a standard Blu-Ray disc, which, for catalog titles, is usually a copy of the latest edition of the title. There are cases (including Warner Brothers) in which the disc is a new one. Also standard for US releases is a digital copy code to redeem for a 4K digital copy so you can stream and download the title. (You will be able to purchase the digital 4K version on October 29, but people who bought or redeemed their previous digital copies via iTunes have reported that their copy has been upgraded.)

Best Buy exclusive Steelbook edition.
While there might be a new Blu-Ray included, I think Oz fans should only expect the new 4K disc. There's currently no new "big box" Ultimate Collector's Edition announced as was released the past two major times the movie was released to home video. The Ultimate Collector's Edition of the past release was the only new way to own a whole two additional discs of bonus features.

So yes, unless a collection with three or four discs is announced, this will include fewer bonus features than the last releases. In addition, the 3D edition is not included as 3D has become a small niche in the home video market, collectors being forced to either import international editions for the 3D disc or turn to exclusive retailer editions that have them. (If available.) So, for collectors who enjoy having the most bonuses available, this new edition should supplement, not replace your older editions. Don't expect new bonuses unless Warner Brother announces them.

I do want to say something about the artwork. It's stilted, looks far too clean and is generally not dynamic or very appealing. The best looking covers from the 2013 reissue were the 3D editions with just Dorothy front and center on the covers. (The 2-disc one featured her in a field of flowers against an Ozzy landscape, while the case in the big box edition featured her face against a white background with the title.) What baffles me is that this movie has been around for decades, with multiple excellent pieces of artwork being created for posters, merchandise and other home video editions. Given how I've used Photoshop, I decided to take a crack at creating alternate 4K covers.

This one repurposes artwork from one of the original posters in 1939, with Al Hirschfeld's portraits of the characters framing the left side and bottom of the front cover.

This one repurposes the artwork from the final MGM/United Artists home video release, circa 1997.

While I'm sure the 4K edition is going to look and sound amazing, especially with HDR, using artwork like that is certainly questionable. Better artwork has been produced for the film which I'm sure with only a little bit of work, Warner Brothers could use. Or there are a number of fine artists who could create new original artwork that would look much better.

Also, Warner, if you'd like to maybe also announce Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz: The Complete Series on DVD or Blu-Ray soon, I wouldn't be mad.

EDIT: UK retailers will be offering their own 4-disc collector's edition.
This set promises a dedicated special features disc in addition to the 4K disc and the standard Blu-Ray. It will likely be a reissue of the special features disc from the 2013 edition. The fourth disc will be a soundtrack CD. Also included are art cards, a reproduction poster and the "map" of Oz that was also in the 2013 big box edition. This set looks very pretty, so UK fans and collectors should be quick to snatch it up, and collectors outside of the UK might want to contact fellow UK collectors to help them get copies as well.

EDIT: Wow! An official press release from Warner Brothers is out there now. It confirms that the Blu-Ray disc will have all the same features from the 2013 edition. It is possible that the version of the film on the disc will be sourced from the 4K version, but that will likely remain unseen until the disc is released and reviewed. There is no mention of a standard Blu-Ray reissue.

The press release confirms that there will be two bonuses on the 4K disc: the audio commentary and the 1990 special The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. This special was included with every Warner Brothers home video release of the movie from 1999 to 2009, but was dropped in 2013 in favor of a new documentary they'd created. After a lawsuit from the producers of the documentary, it was released on its own DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. Now, the 4K disc will include it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Wizard of Oz songs on vinyl

Well, the 80th anniversary of the premiere of MGM's The Wizard of Oz is today. Looking back over my blogs about Oz vinyl records, I noticed the soundtrack album of the movie was unrepresented.

Well, let's fix that, shall we?

In 1940, the songs from The Wizard of Oz were released onto 78rpm records for fans of the film to purchase. However, this was not a soundtrack album. A soundtrack release is made of selections from a film's music, sometimes mixed differently or even using different recordings of the music designed to be listened to without the film.

This release, from Decca Records, featured new recordings of the songs, and only one of the cast could be heard: Judy Garland, singing "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug." The rest of the singers on the records were members of the Ken Darby singers, under his direction. Victor Young and his orchestra performed the music. The other songs on the records were "The Merry Old Land of Oz," "If I Only Had A Brain" (but it also included "If I Only Had A Heart" and "If I Only Had The Nerve"), "We're Off To See The Wizard" and "Munchkinland" (the entire song sequence, filling both sides of a 78 record).

These recordings used some additional lyrics for the songs not used in the film. These were added to commercial sheet music to help the songs be performed outside of the context of the movie. To help tell the story of the song during "The Merry Old Land of Oz," a soloist in the role of Dorothy says "We can't see the Wizard like this, we're all dirty." The Tin Man says he's rusty and the Scarecrow says he's lost a lot of straw, while the Lion says he's afraid of water. The chorus sings "Here we rush with soap and brush to make you clean and fair!" This line has been added to some other versions of the song, for example at the first OzCon karaoke in 2018, I was surprised to see it in the onscreen lyrics for the version of the song I performed.

This collection of records sold well for Decca and in time was reissued as a pair of 48rpm records. Later still, it made side one of a new album that paired the songs with Decca's recordings of a similar collection for Disney's Pinocchio. And that is the version I own.

The first true soundtrack recording of the movie was released in 1956, but unlike modern soundtrack albums, it presented dialogue from the film along with the songs. This meant it included a lot of the score, but it was clipped very short to reduce the audio from 101 minutes to a mere 40 minutes. A number of scenes got the cut, and oddly, the cuts eliminated any mention of the film's iconic Ruby Slippers. For the modern Oz fan, the original version of this album can be very jarring to listen to. Still, for many years, to hear the original cast of the film sing the songs without seeing the film in theaters or on television, creating an audio recording from TV or somehow owning a film print (looking at you, Rob Roy MacVeigh), this was your only option.

This version of the album would be reissued many times with very different album artwork over the years until compact disc came along. It was rebranded "The Story and Songs of the Wizard of Oz" and expanded. My personal vinyl copy seems to be a rather common one that was reissued well into the 1980s.

In 1995, Rhino Music released two new soundtrack albums for MGM's The Wizard of Oz on compact disc. The big one was a 2-disc set that I've profiled before, but there was also a single disc version that in time has become more widely available. This one featured the main titles overture, the songs of the film—opting for extended versions when available—, the Cyclone music, "The Jitterbug," the deleted Emerald City reprise of "The Witch Is Dead!" and the finale music. This version of the soundtrack is now the standard version and has been released on various CDs, digital and even some special vinyl releases.

Do you have these versions of the MGM songs in your collection? In what format? Go ahead and fire away in the comments.