When it was released during Hollywood's golden year of 1939, The Wizard of Oz
didn't start out as the perennial classic it has since become. The film did respectable business, but it wasn't until its debut on television that this family favorite saw its popularity soar. And while Oz
's TV broadcasts are now controlled by media mogul Ted Turner (who owns the rights), the advent of home video has made this lively musical a mainstay in the staple diet of great American films. Young Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), her dog, Toto, and her three companions on the yellow brick road to Oz--the Tin Man (Jack Haley), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger)--have become pop-culture icons and central figures in the legacy of fantasy for children. As the Wicked Witch who covets Dorothy's enchanted ruby slippers, Margaret Hamilton has had the singular honor of scaring the wits out of children for more than six decades. The film's still as fresh, frightening, and funny as it was when first released. It may take some liberal detours from the original story by L. Frank Baum, but it's loyal to the Baum legacy while charting its own course as a spectacular film. Shot in glorious Technicolor, befitting its dynamic production design (Munchkinland alone is a psychedelic explosion of color and decor), The Wizard of Oz
may not appeal to every taste as the years go by, but it's required viewing for kids of all ages. --Jeff Shannon
On the discs
The 2009 Wizard of Oz Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD has all of the material from the 2005 three-disc edition plus more. The first disc has the sharp 2005 restoration using Warner's Ultra Resolution process and an accompanying featurette on how it's done. The technicians also discuss how the sound was remixed, though that would have been more effective had it included surround-sound demonstrations (the featurette is in 2.0). Other features include a commentary track by critic John Fricke supplemented by vintage cast interviews (he offers a lot of trivia, and debunks the myth that Shirley Temple was ever close to getting the Dorothy role); profiles of nine cast members and clips of other movies they appeared in (including Toto); and the original mono track and a music-and-effects track. New for 2009 is a sing-along track that you can turn on as you watch the movie or you can select from 10 numbers to sing along with karaoke-style subtitles. The second disc has all the same material as the 2005 second disc: the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Making of a Movie Classic; the outtakes and deleted scenes, including Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the home-movie recording of "The Jitterbug"; the sketches and stills and composer Harold Arlen's home movies; the audio underscores and radio programs; the 1979 interviews with Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley; a lightly animated 10-minute storybook again narrated by Lansbury; 2001 and 2005 behind-the-scenes featurettes; a 1950 Lux Radio Theater broadcast; and other items too numerous to mention.
The material from the 2005 third disc is now on discs 3 and 4. New for 2009 is a 34-minute documentary on the director of The Wizard of Oz (and many other films), Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman; "Hollywood Celebrates Its Biggest Little Stars," a featurette on how the Munchkins got their star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 2007; The Dreamer of Oz, a a 1990 television movie dramatizing the life of author L. Frank Baum, played by John Ritter, and also featuring Annette O'Toole and Rue McClanahan (poor picture quality might have relegated it to the bonus material instead of being released on its own); and a 51-minute silent film from 1951, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. These new materials complement the 38-minute biography of L. Frank Baum, and the other early treatments of The Wizard of Oz: Of the four silent films--The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910, 13 min.), The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914, 38 min.), His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914, 59 min., written and directed by Baum himself), and The Wizard of Oz (1925, 72 min., Larry Semon)--"Scarecrow" and the 1925 film are wonderfully enhanced by newly composed and performed soundtracks that re-create what a silent-movie hall might have sounded like. The sixth treatment is Ted Eshbaum's 1933 Technicolor cartoon short which has songs and sound, and is the first depiction of Kansas in black and white and Oz in color. A fifth disc has a Digital Copy of the film (compatible with iTunes and Windows Media; download code expires 9/22/10).
The limited-edition (243,000 numbered editions) packaging is very attractive, though a bit awkward for shelf space (it's taller than a normal DVD). The large box opens to reveal a 52-page book Behind the Curtain of Production 1060 with cast bios and production notes and photos, a copy of the film's budget, a 70th-anniversary watch, and a replica campaign booklet that was intended to hype the film's release to theater owners. It's a fascinating time capsule of advance publicity for a film that is still being watched and discussed 70 years later. --David Horiuchi
Stills from The Wizard of Oz (click for larger image)