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957 of 1,046 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (Blu-ray update) Not a restoration, but an entirely different view of the film., October 30, 2005
This review is from: The Wizard of Oz (Three-Disc Collector's Edition) (DVD)
I was just critized for foisting off the following review of the 3-disk DVD set as a review of the new Blu-ray. I didn't; Amazon did. As anyone who's been here for a while will notice, Amazon throws all DVD reviews into the same bucket, regardless of the edition. So don't blame me.

I just got the Blu-ray, and will have some comments on it at the end.

There's no need to discuss "The Wizard of Oz" itself, a classic among classics (though I'll have something to say about its "philosophy" later on). You probably want to know whether the UltraResolution transfer justifies the purchase.

It does. Oh, yes it does.

"The Wizard of Oz" has always looked good, one of the better Technicolor films. Unlike "Gone With the Wind", which was generally dark and desaturated, and which UltraResolution greatly improved, I didn't expect much enhancement for "Oz".

Was I ever wrong. I stared with my jaw hanging open. "Oz" is the best UltraResolution transfer by far -- and the others were not exactly chopped liver.

The improvement in detail and sharpness is startling, especially as the original prints did not seem obviously lacking in either. Even more amazing is the expansion of the tonal scale. Dark scenes (particularly those in the forest and outside the "witches" castle) are now filled with rich detail. Have you ever noticed how beautiful the Winkies' red, white, and gray uniforms are? I hadn't -- until now.

These enhancements combine to produce the biggest improvement of all -- a major revelation of _texture_. The "feltiness" of many costumes is obvious. The burlap of the Scarecrow's face is now plainly visible, particularly in the close-up where he misstates the Pythagorean Theorem. And the Lion's costume is a thick pile of fur you want to reach out and stroke. You can see every last strand of hair.

I'm exaggerating only slightly when I say the improvements of this UltraResolution transfer are not much less than those from cleaning the Sistine Chapel's frescos. It's as if layers of murk and grime -- that you never even knew were there! -- have been stripped away. Until you view it, you cannot imagine what this film (that is, the original camera negatives) _really_ looks like. It's a shame the people who created "Oz" never got to see it this way.

The image quality is so high that I often felt as if I were looking through a window at live performers. (Well, almost.) No matter what versions you already have, you won't be disappointed with this one. I watched it twice in two days, and I might even view it a third time tonight.

My only quibble is that several matte paintings do not blend properly, because the hues at the join lines do not match those of the scene. This could have been fixed; I suspect it seemed too much work for a small improvement. (A friend suggested that these sorts of things are left in because videophiles enjoy finding them.)

As to the differences between the two- and three-disk sets... The latter includes a packet of original programs and promotional material of the sort we haven't seen in 40 years ago. (Remember the 50-cent deluxe programs for road-show films?) There's also a set of 10 reproductions of Kodachrome publicity photographs. For this viewer, these extras alone justify the higher price.

The third disk will be of most interest to lovers of all things Oz. It includes a handsomely produced biography of L. Frank Baum (interesting enough that you might want to watch it more than once), plus all the silent Oz films and a Technicolor Oz cartoon. The existence of these is well-known to anyone familiar with the history of Oz productions, but they've never appeared (as far as I know) in any home-video format.

The films are problematic. The two from Baum's production company are the best -- they have style, charm, and imagination. The others are cheesy ripoffs that bear little relation to the original book. The Larry Semon -- a once wildly-popular but now virtually forgotten cartoonist and comic -- version is especially obnoxious, as it is little more than a vehicle for Semon's brand of physical comedy. The Baum estate is at least partly to blame -- _any_ movie version must have seemed more attractive than none, especially as the technology to make a convincing version of "Oz" would not exist for another 15 years.

The film's opening titles praise the book's "kindly philosophy", which seems to be either "You already have everything you need to be happy", or "The answer to your problems lies within yourself". These are not so much "kindly" as reflections of the hard-nosed "All your problems are your own fault" and "If you're not a success, it's because you're lazy" homilies that grew out of the great opportunity for personal development and material success this country offered.

I believe L. Frank Baum had something rather different in mind. "The Wizard of Oz" is a fairy tale in which magic has no bearing on the issues at the center of the story. I believe Baum wanted to discourage children from fantasizing that magic could be a solution to one's problems.

So... he has the four principals make a grueling journey to the Emerald City, then find the wizard is a humbug. (What a shame the blander "fake", "fraud", or "phony" have replaced that delightful word.) He posesses no magic to supply wit, love, or grit, which the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion have demonstrated they already have.

Baum's "moral" is simple -- Love, wisdom, and courage are what we need to get through life. No one can _give_ them to us, because we _already_ possess them, and all we need to do is express them.

"Is that right?"

"That's all it is."

Now... the question you've been waiting for the answer to... Is the Blu-ray set worth the price?

I viewed the Blu-ray on a Pioneer 60" Pro Kuro, fed from a Sony BDP-S550. I also watched the DVD on the Pioneer (fed from the same Blu-ray player), and on a 36" Sony 400-series WEGA "improved definition" TV (fed from a Sony DVP-S7000).

The DVD remains a terrific DVD, and looks terrific on a high-quality 480i monitor. (See the preceding review.) It was, and still is, a demo-quality DVD.

When played on the BD player, and upconverted to 1080p, the DVD's image on the Kuro is pretty darn good -- the sharpness and detail are at least "acceptable". But when you play the Blu-ray disk, the image goes from "acceptable" to almost-startling. Two examples... Note the enhanced detail and texture in the weather-beaten wood above the WWE's lifeless legs. And in the crowd scenes, you can see (just about) every Munchkin face. There is virtually no smearing of detail.

So... should you rush right out in a buying frenzy and get the BD edition? It depends.

The DVD is good enough for an excellent picture on a high-quality SD monitor. But even upconverted, it isn't good enough for a _large_ HD display. If you have, say, a 40" display; your BD player has a good upconverter (not all do); and you don't sit "on top of" the screen (as I do); you might see little difference between the DVD and the Blu-ray.

But if you're a video fuss-budget (as I am) and sit closer than the "experts" recommend (why _shouldn't_ you?), you will almost certainly prefer the Blu-ray. It's your call.

IMPORTANT POINT Since this review was written, MGM has issued an inexpensive single-disk Blu-ray edition. There's no reason /not/ to buy it.

A few remarks on the extras... The wristwatch, as the kid in the Ally bank commercial says, is a piece of junk. The design shows little style or imagination. And as others have said, "The Dreamer of OZ" is a wretched transfer, very badly unpconverted to 1080. It is not of acceptable quality, and should have been put on the DVD disk in its original form.

I will come back later (I hope) with some more comments on the sound and the other extras. Forcing yourself to repeatedly watch large chunks of a movie, regardless of its quality, is an ennervating experience.
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Showing 1-10 of 38 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 23, 2007 1:24:02 PM PST
The moral of the story as described by this reviewer brought a tear to my eye.

Posted on Dec 26, 2008 12:05:08 PM PST
TamRock says:
I truly... TRULY appreciated reading this review. Well done William, I will look forward to reading more of your reviews.

Posted on Sep 19, 2009 8:51:46 PM PDT
This was a lovely review. You are a gifted writer. I loved the last lines. Very moving to read.

Posted on Sep 20, 2009 4:43:57 AM PDT
Thank you for the kind remarks.

I wish I _were_ a gifted writer. Sometimes I get lucky. My review of "300" has also moved a few people to tears. (Really.) If there is any trick to expressing strong feelings, it's to do it in the simplest way you can.

Posted on Oct 12, 2009 7:36:17 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 12, 2009 7:36:48 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2009 7:44:24 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 13, 2009 8:26:26 AM PDT
The problem is that Amazon doesn't divide up DVDs by edition -- every review gets lumped together. That's why you're seeing my earlier review under the Blu-Ray.

I've added comments on the Blu-ray edition, and might add more as time and inclination permit.

PS: The guy who said the BD is no better than the broadcast version is crazy -- unless it's being shown in 1080 HD.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2009 8:26:55 AM PST
CTW says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Dec 22, 2009 6:20:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 22, 2009 6:21:22 PM PST
B. L. Moslen says:
I am looking to buy this set ,but I dont know if I should just stick with the DVD or go Blue-ray. I will be getting a blue-ray player for Christmas...What do you think?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2009 7:39:15 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 27, 2014 12:34:55 PM PST
In this particular case, I would go with the DVD (unless price is no object). Although the BD is an improvement over the DVD, it is not so much an improvement as the BD of "Gone With the Wind". Read my comments and decide accordingly.

Addendum: The single-disk Blu-ray edition is so inexpensive there's no reason not to buy it.

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 10:20:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2010 10:22:25 AM PST
Gary Fisher says:
I like your rendering of the moral, William; I think it relates fairly well to (though it does not duplicate) the description given by the producers of "The Secret of Oz," a 2009 film exploring another interpretation of Baum's work. According to them,

"It is well known in economics academia that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 is loaded with powerful symbols of monetary reform which were the core of the Populist movement and the 1896 and 1900 president bid of Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

"The yellow brick road (gold standard), the emerald city of Oz (greenback money), even Dorothy's silver slippers (changed to ruby slippers for the movie version) were the symbol of Baum's and Bryan's belief that adding silver coinage to gold would provide much needed money to a depression-strapped, 1890s America."
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