Connor Bynum // Film Critic
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Very few films have the honor of being so popular that they become an American staple on par with apple pie and fireworks on the Fourth of July. THE WIZARD OF OZ is unquestionably one of those films. With its 80th anniversary falling this year, audiences can once again take the journey over the rainbow in glorious 4K UHD.
Movie Grade: A-
Taking place in rural Kansas, a young girl named Dorothy (Judy Garland) wishes for nothing more than to live in a world where she and her dog, Toto, can avoid getting into any trouble. After Toto upsets the wrong mean old lady who now threatens to kill the poor thing, Dorothy has no choice but to run away from home. Yet, just as she plans to leave, a disastrous tornado carries her house far away to a land known as Oz.
From there, Dorothy must travel to the Emerald city where only the titular Wizard (Frank Morgan) has the power to send her back home. Along the way, Dorothy teams up with a group of loyal companions who also hope that the Wizard can grant them their wishes: a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who wants a brain; a Tin Man (Jack Haley), who wants a heart; and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who wants a bit of courage.
This is a classic story that is beloved by multiple generations of viewers. Filled with iconic characters, musical numbers and groundbreaking visual effects, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Video/Audio Grade: B+
THE WIZARD OF OZ most certainly pushed the boundaries of visual filmmaking upon its initial release. However, the same cannot entirely be said for this 4K remaster. First off, it’s important to give credit where it’s due. This disc is remarkably derived from a native 8K scan of the original Technicolor camera negative. The utter insanity of such a feat cannot be understated enough. The picture is spectacularly clear, yet this newfound clarity seems to have washed out most of the film’s magic. Oz no longer feels like a magical far off place full of mystery and wonder, but rather a Hollywood soundstage. Backdrops and matte paintings that once gave off the illusion of a winding road to a distant horizon are painfully obvious.
Some may find this clarity charming in an “Old Hollywood” sort of way, but in all honesty, it came off as an unpleasant distraction. Interestingly enough, the Kansas segments fare significantly better in the new format. The extra grain and noise help to mask most of the backdrops and helps maintain the distinction between the real world and the land somewhere over the rainbow.
Some viewers may also be thrown off by the fact that the disc is presented in the film’s original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. What this essentially means is that there will be two black bars on the left and right of your 16×9 4K display rather than the traditional black bars on the top and bottom viewers are accustomed to with modern-day films. It’s certainly not a problem, but more of a constant reminder of the film’s age.
The disc includes both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision to compliment the increased resolution. Given the film’s history of using color to enhance its storytelling, this inclusion feels rather poetic, as this enhancement may create a similar feeling for first-time viewers. The improved spectrum helps remove artifacting and noise from darker scenes while also keeping brighter colors from getting overblown.
On a somewhat disappointing note, the audio presentation is painfully forgettable, with only a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that does very little with the left and right rear channel. Scenes such as the twister in the first act may have blown Dorothy away, but the same can’t be said for those watching at home. Very little is done with the rear left and right channels besides some light wind effects that never truly create a sense of space for the room.
The iconic MunchkinLand sequence feels uncomfortably hollow, with many of the lower tones feeling either highly muted or absent altogether. The track is certainly serviceable, but it definitely will leave viewers desiring something more on par with the increased visual clarity.
Extras Grade: A-
The extras included in this package will be overwhelming for first-time buyers and are undoubtedly worth a look for those interested in Hollywood’s golden age. However, the bulk of the features are carried over from previous Blu-ray releases and are only included on the packaged Blu-ray Disc. Some features are included on the 4K disc, however, which is unfortunately all too uncommon these days.
4K disc special features:
- Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren.
- 1990 CBS Special “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic.”
Blu-ray special features
- Commentary- Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren
- The Making of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook (narrated by Angela Lansbury)
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly…
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Frank Morgan”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Ray Bolger”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Bert Lahr”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Jack Haley”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Billie Burke”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Margaret Hamilton”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Charley Grapewin”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Clara Blandick”
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly: “Terry”
- Music & Effects Track
- Original Mono Track
- Sing Along Tracks
- Audio Jukebox
- Leo is on the Air Radio Promo
- Good News of 1939 Radio Show
- 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Broadcast
- Stills Galleries
- Oz on Broadway
- Sketches and Storyboards
- Richard Thorpe’s Oz
- Buddy Ebsen
- Oz Comes to Life
- Behind the Scenes
- Special Effects
- Post Production
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Publicity
- 8/15/1939 Hollywood Premiere
- 8/17/1939 New York Premiere
- 2/29/1940 Academy Awards® Ceremony
- Oz Abroad
- Oz Revivals
Final Grade: A-
While cinephiles will undoubtedly consider this one a no-brainer to add to their collection, first-time viewers might find themselves questioning what all the fuss is about. Yet, for those who can appreciate it as a timeless piece of film history, there is plenty of wonders still left in the merry old land of Oz.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.