Dazzling 'Wizard of Oz' collection leads newest Blu-ray releases

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

30 September 2009


Showcasing one of the most popular movies of all time, “The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (Warner, 1939, $84.99) easily tops the parade of new titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Never has this timeless classic looked so stunning as it does in the high definition DVD format. The colors are beautiful and vibrant, thanks to a meticulous re-mastering effort by Warner Home Video using the original Technicolor camera negatives. Even the sepia opening and closing sequences are a delight to behold. The sound is flawless in Dolby TrueHD audio.

Packaged in an attractive elongated box dominated by Emerald City-green, the collection includes a 70th anniversary Wizard of Oz wrist watch, a copy of the original campaign book, a hard-cover booklet “Behind the Curtain of Production 1060” and, of course, there is the film itself.

Seventy years later, the magic is as enthralling as ever. A radiant Judy Garland as Dorothy, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Berth Lahr as the Cowardly Lion and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch all look so alive. They make it almost difficult to believe the film is that old.

The sequence when Dorthy opens the door and catches her (and our) first glimpse of the land of Oz is still a thrilling sight. The “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” number once more is a joyful experience. Everything — the actors, the sets, the music — works to perfection, which is why the movie has remained so beloved. No wonder it has appealed to millions and millions of people over the decades.

“The Wizard of Oz” is presented in its original 4x3 (1.33.1) aspect ratio, which means there are black borders on each side, exactly the way it was meant to be seen.

There is one disappointment with the release. The extras, such as the silent Oz films, the “Making of the Wizard of Oz” documentary and a TV special about “Oz” author L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter, have not been transferred to high-def and are not presented in their original 4x3 aspect ratio. They have been stretched to fill the screen. This probably won’t bother the majority of people who buy the collection.

Another extra, the six-part history of MGM “The Lion Roars” is included on a standard DVD disc. The collection also includes a digital copy of “The Wizard of Oz” included. The “Oz” set also is available on standard DVD.

Overall, the set is one any “Oz” lover will want to own. Warner Home Video is to be commended for taking the lead in bringing vintage classic films to Blu-ray. Warner owns the finest film library in the world so we can look forward to other such releases.

“The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” is highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Monsters vs. Aliens” (DreamWorks, 2009, $39.99): After Susan Murphy is hit by a meteor, she grows to enormous size and is dubbed “Ginormica.” The military captures her for study with other odd “monsters.” But when an alien lands on Earth, Ginormica and the others are needed to defend the planet. Computer animation is first rate. Among those supplying voices are Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Seth Rogen. Also included is “B.O.B.‘s Big Break,” a 13-minute short in 3-D. Also available on standard DVD. Highly recommended.

“The Universe Megaset” (A&E, 2007-08, $179.95): This includes three seasons (42 episodes) of this marvelous series that allows us to take vivid voyages to the far reaches of outer space and beyond. This one includes a somewhat scary episode called “Preventing Armageddon” and an oddity called “Sex in Space” which actually gives you some interesting things to ponder. Season three also is being released separately at $69.95. This visual Blu-ray feast is highly recommended.

“The Dark Crystal” (Sony, 1982, $27.95): Shades of J.R.R. Tolkien, this Jim Henson-directed saga tells the story of a planet where the horrible Skeksis, bird-like lizards, rule. An orphan named Jen, raised by good wizards, sets out on a quest to find the dark crystal that gives the Skeksis their power. Recommended.

“Facing the Giants” (Sony, 2006, $28.95): A football coach named Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) fears his days may be numbered after six straight losing seasons as Shiloh Christian Academy. For guidance, he turns to the Holy Bible. What follows is a story that is sure to uplift the non-cynical. If you’re uncomfortable with talk of God, keep away. But if you are a believer, don’t miss it.

“The Unit: Season 4” (20th Century Fox, $69.99): The always-watchable Dennis Haysbert plays Jonas Blane, the leader of a Special Forces Unit that is deeply involved in the war on terrorism. The show also looks at how the unit’s missions affect the members’ home life and their wives. Regina Taylor plays Molly Bane. The set includes 22 episodes of what turned out to be the series’ final season. Recommended.

“Labyrinth” (Sony, 1986, $27.95): David Bowie plays Jareth the Goblin King in this Jim Henson-directed fantasy. Young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) wishes the goblins would take her little brother Toby away. She is shocked when that actually happens and is told she must complete a complicated mission if she wants her brother back.

“Fireproof” (Sony, 2008, $28.95): Firefighter Captain Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) decides it is time to divorce his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea). But his friends convince him to try to save his marriage by being nice to Catherine for 40 days. The film makes it clear that Holt could not have done it without Jesus on his side. Christians will enjoy this one.

“The Girlfriend Experience” (Magnolia, 2009, $34.98): Talk about type casting. Sasha Grey, a 21-year-old porn star, plays a call girl named Chelsea who tries to meet the needs of her variety of clients. Set during the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election.

“Away We Go” (Universal, 2008, $39.98): This gentle film is about Burt (John Krasinski) and his pregnant wife, Verona (Maya Rudolph), as they search for the proper place to raise their child. Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara co-star. Be aware that there are no explosions and no edge-of-the-seat car chases. It’s a film about relationships and nothing more. Recommended.

“How I Met Your Mother: Season Four” (20th Century Fox, 2008-09, $49.99): This romantic sitcom stars Neil Patrick Harris and Barney Stinson, Josh Radnor as Ted Mosby, Alyson Hannigan as Lily Aldrin, Jason Segal as Marshall Erikson and Cobie Smolders as Robin Scherbatsky. The set includes 24 episodes.

“Billy Jack” (Image, 1971, $24.98): Tom Laughlin stars as the title character, who is half-Native American and has just returned from Vietnam. Billy Jack does not like some of the things he sees going on around him (such as the slaughter of wild horses, which he stops). The film was very popular with certain groups during the Vietnam era because it took on causes from ecology to banning and just about everything in between.

Also available: “Snakes on a Plane” (New Line, 2006, $28.99), Samuel L. Jackson; “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (New Line, 2003, $28.99), like we needed a remake of this; “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” (Warner, 2009, $24.98), animation; “Management” (Image, 2008, $35.98), Jennifer Anniston; “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (Dark Sky Films, 1990, $29.98), pretty grim stuff.

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