“There’s no place like home...” “The Wizard of Oz” sparkles in 4K Ultra HD

Updated: Jan 11


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her new friends the Tin Man (Jack Haley), the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) reach the end of the yellow brick road and see the magnificent Emerald City of Oz.





“THE WIZARD OF OZ: 80th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1939; PG for some scary moments; Streaming via Amazon Video Prime, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: "Making of a Movie Classic"









FOR DECADES “The Wizard of Oz” has been the most beloved movie in cinema history.


Thirty years ago, Angela Lansbury told audiences during the TV special “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic,” that more than a billion folks globally had watched the story of Dorothy Gale, the Kansas girl whisked away by a tornado to a magical land called Oz. She shared her own experience about seeing the film as a schoolgirl in London just before the Nazis began bombing England in the early days of World War II. “I thought it was unlike anything that I’d ever seen before,” she said. Once Lansbury became a mother herself, she watched it on TV with her children and then, later, with her grandchildren.


The 50-minute TV special, available on the 4K disc, includes several “Oz” backstories from producer Mervyn LeRoy who said MGM didn’t want to spend that much money on the musical. The production ended up topping $2.6 million, which during the Depression was a lot of money. Actor Ray Bolger, who plays Hunk/the Scarecrow, said their makeup was so frightening, “We looked like people from another world.” Bolger and others were kicked out of the studio commissary, and had to eat in their dressing rooms.


(1) "The Wizard of Oz" received five Academy Award nominations and won for Best Original Song "Over the Rainbow" and won a second golden statue for Best Original Score. (2) Sixty-five sets were created for "Oz." (3 & 4) The song "Over the Rainbow" was nearly cut because studio executives felt it slowed the story down.



Jack Haley who plays Hickory/the Tin Man says everyone assumed the production was a blast; in reality it was extremely hard work: “Like hell it was fun.” Judy Garland, then 16, played Dorothy, the girl who only wanted to go home. An audio clip recorded before her death in 1969, tells how the three men (Bolger, Haley, and Bert Lahr who plays Zeke/the Cowardly Lion) “were so busy complaining about the makeup, each were making bets as to which makeup was the most difficult.”


Part of the 50th anniversary fanfare in 1989 included 5,000 tap dancers setting a Guinness Book World Record dancing to an “Oz” song in front of Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan. Jeweler Harry Winston created a pair of genuine ruby slippers valued at $3 million.


Lansbury gives a brief history of L. Frank Baum’s book first published in 1900 and its adaptation. She says the success of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and Seven Dwarfs” (1938) was the driving force behind MGM studio tycoon Louis. B. Mayer buying the rights to “Oz.” Producer LeRoy used songwriter Arthur Freed as his unaccredited co-producer to cast the film. Everyone at the studio wanted Shirley Temple to play Dorothy. One problem, after hearing Temple sing at an unofficial audition, LeRoy and Freed agreed the demands of the part and her limited singing range were beyond the 10-year-old.



(1) Miss Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) arrives at the Gale farm to take Dorothy's dog Toto because he got into her garden, chased her cat and bit her when she hit him on the back with a rack. She has an order from the sheriff to take the dog. (2) Dorothy runs away and stumbles into Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) a traveling fortune teller. (3 & 4) The visual and sound effects for the tornado sequence were nominated for an Oscar.



But Garland, who started her vaudeville career at 2 ½ years old as a member of the Gumm Sisters Kiddy Act, had been billed as “the little girl with the great big voice.” By age 15, her name had been changed from Frances Gumm to Judy Garland, and she had been under contract with MGM for nearly three years. She could sing, dance and perform a variety of dramatic or comedy roles, and the studio was intent on grooming her to become a star. Lorna Luft, Garland’s daughter, recalls how her mother loved making “Oz”: “You could see it in her eyes because she was a kid.”


Extras also show how former kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton, newly divorced and supporting herself and three-year-old son got the role of Miss Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. She had just completed work on six MGM movies as a character actress when she got the call from her agent. She told him, “‘Oh gosh, I love that story from the time I was four-years-old. What is it?’ He responded, ‘Well, the witch.’ And I said ‘The Witch?’ He said ‘What else?’”


Original test screenings were shown as a two-hour cut, and studio executives felt a number of musical numbers had to be removed. First cut was a dance number with the Scarecrow, then Dorothy’s triumphal return to Emerald City with the Wicked Witch’s broomstick; it cost $100,000 to create that montage. Still, one more song was up for removal and “Over the Rainbow” was the one. Many felt it slowed the picture down. Songwriters Arlen and Harburg were “crushed and, more, they were angry,” says film critic/historian Leonard Maltin in a second 2013 documentary found on the enclosed Blu-ray. Narrator Martin Sheen says, “If there is a pivotal moment in the road to Oz, it is this one. What would ‘The Wizard of Oz’ be without ‘Over the Rainbow?’”


The 4K disc also includes a commentary with Oz historian John Fricke, Arthur Freed’s daughter Barbara Saltzman, and historical audio clips from cast members including Hamilton, Boyer, Haley, and producer LeRoy, all ported over from previous editions.


(1 & 2) Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz. (3) The Gale farmhouse lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and the Munchkins are now free of her. (4) Glinda (Bille Burke) the Good Witch of the North wears a gown adorned with diamonds. She announces to the good people of Munchkinland that the witch is dead. (5) Dorothy is declared a hero by the Munchkins.





(1) The Lollipop Guild played by Jackie Gerlich, Jerry Maren and Harry Doll sing for Dorothy. (2 & 3) The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) interrupts the celebration with a cloud of red smoke and fire, demanding the return of her sister's red ruby slippers.





VIDEO

The 80th-anniversary edition of “The Wizard of Oz” has been meticulously restored again by the folks at Warner Brothers, with the help of MPI colorist Janet Wilson. She has supervised color correction on three previous “Oz” restorations over the past 20 years. In this version, Warner pushed the scanning process to a new 8K-16 bit scan of the original three-strip Technicolor negatives (red, blue and green). The three combined digital files for each frame (1.37:1 aspect ratio) create the richest color palette ever seen on screen. Nothing compares – especially with the application of the HDR toning.


Emerald City greens leap off the screen as Wilson dials up for expansive HDR toning. Three different HDR formats are available depending on what type of 4K display device is used from flat panel to projectors using the industry-standard HDR10, to the more expressive and dynamic Dolby Vision and HDR10+, the competing format available on various 4K TV brands.


Reds, greens and blues, the base of the Technicolor process, are extremely rich. Black and white scenes at the beginning and Dorothy’s return home are sepia-toned like previous editions. The overall grading is slightly darker than the HD versions; highlights are much brighter yet still controlled, with bright spots, while the shadows are deeper without losing detail.


The overall resolution bump over the 1080p versions is striking – especially during the wide shots from Munchkinland and its sea of faces when Dorothy starts down the yellow brick road. The natural film grain is controlled, dancing across every single scene as it should.


AUDIO

The six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack created for the 70th-anniversary edition in 2009 is encoded on the 4K disc and Blu-ray, with a modest amount of expansive sound to the rear speakers. It’s still balanced for the center, and left and right speakers, with dialogue coming front and center and songs spread across the front with a pinch to the rears. The classics are all there: “Over the Rainbow,” “Come Out, Come Out,” “Ding-dong! The Witch is Dead,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “If I Were King of the Forest,” and “The Merry Old Land of Oz.” Surprisingly, the original mono track wasn’t included.


“Oh we’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we hear he is a wiz of a wiz if ever a wiz there was, if rather or whether a wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because; because, because, because, because, because...because of the Wonderful things he does. We’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz!”


— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer


(1) Beautiful fine detail is extracted from the new 8K restoration from Warner. (2 & 3) On the yellow brick road, Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who's on a pole in a nearby cornfield to scare off the crows. (4) Next, she and the Scarecrow find the Tin Man ( Jack Haley) on the side of the road hidden by bushes. (5) Dorothy and the Scarecrow oil up his joints and the Tin Man performs the delightful “If I Only Had a Heart.”






(1) Dorothy comes across the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who jumps out of the darkness and tries to scare them. But, Dorothy slaps the Lion on the nose after he tried to bite Toto. (2) Dorothy arrives at the front gate of the Emerald City of Oz and she's greeted by the Guardian of the Gates also played by Frank Morgan. (3) The Wicked Witch of the West sends a smokey message to Dorothy. (4) The Lion sings “If I Were King of the Forest.” (5) The Wizard tells Dorothy she must bring him the magic broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West before he'll help her get home.





(1) The Great and Powerful Wizard (2) The scary flying monkeys got to me every time as a child. (3) The composite shot still holds up quite well as the Witch tries to take the ruby slippers off Dorothy. (4) The Wicked Witch decides to kill Dorothy when the hourglass of death is empty.




(1) The Wicked Witch takes her broomstick and sets the tip on fire and lights the Scarecrow's arm on fire. (2) Dorothy responds with a bucket of water that splashes onto the witch and she begins to melt. (3 & 4) The Wizard tells the people of Emerald City that he's taking Dorothy home and that the Scarecrow will officially rule over the city until he returns. (5) The balloon accidentally takes off when Dorothy exited to get Toto when he spotted a cat. Glinda the Good Witch appears and tells Dorothy that she's always had the power to return home to Kansas. So with three clicks of her ruby slippers and repeating to herself: "There's no place like home."





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