Considered one of the greatest films in American cinema history, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz has delighted audiences since it first premiered August 15th, 1939. Not many films, let alone adaptations, can say they carry that kind of esteem, but with an all-star cast, memorable songs, and set design unlike anything audiences had seen before, The Wizard of Oz evolved from mere cinema into one of the most cherished family films. Prior to the advent of home entertainment, broadcasts of The Wizard of Oz were an event around which the whole family would gather. Even now, with VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray copies long since providing instant access, the appearance of Dorothy Gale and little Toto are enough to stop anyone in their tracks, or, at the very least, inspire a desire to follow a yellow bricked road, click their heels, or avoid water. Though its longevity can be ascribed to many things, there’s no doubt that the moment in which Oz truly took audiences away is the moment when Dorothy officially enters the Land of Oz. Beautiful in full color and wondrous, it was a sight to behold in 1939. The only way to make that magic any grander is with a 4K remaster, hitting shelves on October 29th. Not only is The Wizard of Oz getting the 4K treatment with HDR and HDR10+, but it’s also hitting select Dolby Cinema theaters for a limited time starting October 24th.
In case you’re less familiar with The Wizard of Oz, here’s what you need to know. Young lady Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) lives with her elderly aunt and uncle in Kansas. When not being tormented by neighbor Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton), she’s being teased by farmhands Hunk (Ray Bolger), Zeke (Bert Lahr), and Hickory (Jack Haley). Feeling put upon and unheard, Dorothy runs away and meets con-artist Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), who manages to convince her to return home. Along the way a tornado takes shape, getting to the family farm just as Dorothy does, sweeping her and the house up with its winds. When the house stops moving, Dorothy finds herself in a strange land whereupon she learns that the mysterious Wizard may be able to help her get home. Scared but determined, Dorothy makes her way to the Wizard, gathering new friends and dodging a particularly nasty new enemy along the way.
Where other home release iterations may have tried to reel in audiences with bonus features or other flashy trinkets, the 4K remaster is all about the look and sound. Yes, it does include a litany of special features, but each of them is from a previous release. This includes the 1990 Angela Lansbury -hosted CBS Special “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic,” commentary from principals in the film, trailers, sing along options, and much more. So if you already own The Wizard of Oz, odds are in your favor that you possess all the goodies that come with the 4K remaster. But that’s not why you’re here. You want to know if The Wizard of Oz is a worthwhile 4K purchase. The answer is a simple, but determined yes. Whereas I remember Kansas as a grainy black and white, the remaster adds a bit of color, specifically a rusty red which aids in the degradation of the Gale farm. Though there is some obvious grain from the original print, an artifact of the original celluloid, it’s barely perceptible with the rusty color as the grain blends in with the look of farm. Where audiences will take the biggest notice in the remaster is in Oz itself. Without any sense of awareness, an audible “wooooow” escaped my lips as the farmhouse door swung open and the colors of Oz filled my screen. For those keeping score, MPI colorist Janet Wilson was in charge of the 8K 16bit scan process to create this remaster and she’s the individual who has overseen each remaster of Oz for the last 20 years. Her experience with the technology is evident as the greens (and all the other colors) are more vibrant than ever. The changes in color saturation levels are dramatically different when you compare the 4K version to the same part of the CBS Special. This isn’t “whole new movie” different, but it certainly appears more than a simple up-convert. The Wizard of Oz should always take on a larger than life feel and the remaster absolutely enables it to do so in a modern way without compromising its timelessness.
That said, with the increase in detail does come an awareness of things you might not have noticed before. Take Haley’s costume as Tin Man, a well-designed piece which, in concert with strong foley work and Haley’s performance, really seems made of sturdy tin. With the remaster, there are a few moments where applications and some of the paint work become more obvious. This last bit also impacts Hamilton when she takes on the persona of The Wicked Witch of the West. Those familiar with the making of the film know that Hamilton herself was injured during the filming of the Munchkinland sequence, burning her face and a hand. Given this knowledge and the remaster’s ability to bring life to smaller details, there’s some obvious shifting in the green make-up Hamilton wears while as the Witch. Instead of the solid green that popular culture has us remember, there’s some yellow and brown near the eyes, almost in a tear-like form. Details like this about the Witch and the Tin Man make remasters always an intriguing proposition since as the picture quality is increased, details, both good and bad, become more noticeable. None of this, however, detracts from the experience so much as it pokes the mind, causing it to wonder if these things were there in the first place and we’d always missed them. Think of it like the immortal line, “I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.” Except it was never said that way and now you’re questioning it yourself.
The way cinema hits us all is incredibly personal. For me, The Wizard of Oz was never a film I loved, but enjoyed. Like many, I can whistle “Yellow Brick Road,” crack jokes when splashed with water unexpectedly, and know how to make the perfect Popeye-like face when talking about the Lollypop Guild. It did teach me a few things of incredible value. I know that when threatening small children, you always include their dog Toto, even when no dogs are present. I know that the people who want to be in charge are likely hucksters and the ones who think they’re scared or brainless, are likely the most brave or intelligent. But perhaps the best lesson to take from Oz: you can find courage among friends. Whether L. Frank Baum intended for his book to be remembered this way or not, thanks to the work of Garland, Hamilton, and the rest, this is what audience members like myself would take away. This is perhaps why, even when the surprise and admiration for the look of Oz fades, that audiences continue to return decade after decade, release after release.
In select Dolby Cinemas from October 25th – October 31st, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack and digital on October 29th, 2019.
Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray Elements
The Wizard of Oz Ultra HD Blu-ray contains the following previously released 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.”
The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray contains the following previously released 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