|Wizard of Oz, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Monday, 18 October 1999|
"The Wizard of Oz" is so much a part of American culture -- we've all grown up with it -- that it's all too easy to take it for granted. It's more like a dear old friend than a movie; most of us can sing along with the songs and anticipate every joke. Phrases from the movie ("I don't think we're in Kansas any more;" "you and your little dog, too!", etc.) have long, long since become part of our cultural consciousness.
In fact, the movie is so familiar, its content so all-pervasive, that it can be hard to recognize it for a genuine movie masterpiece, but that's what it is, one of the greatest triumphs of the old Hollywood studio system. And it's even harder to realize that it is unique. There are other great musicals, there are other great children's films, there are other great examples of magnificent studio technique, but there simply is no other movie at all in which all of these elements, and more, so perfectly merge into one great movie. It has elements of Hollywood, of Broadway, even of radio; the production design is both hip and classical, the color ravishing, the story involving. And the performances are timelessly beautiful, every one of them.
A few years ago, when laserdiscs were hot, a great boxed set was released under the title "The Ultimate Oz." This near-perfect DVD, then, would have to be "The Ultimater Oz," because it includes every highlight of the laserdisc, and more besides. First, the film itself is presented in a beautifully, digitally-mastered print, as fine as anyone has yet seen on video; only HDTV will do this movie more justice. The intensely vibrant colors seem to project right off the TV screen; even the sepia scenes that open and close the film have never looked better.
But it's the jaw-dropping array of extras included on this dual-layer disc that make this an absolutely must purchase for anyone who likes the film. (Isn't that everyone?) There's the fascinating documentary, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic." This well-researched movie, based on the similarly-titled book by Aljean Harmetz, is hosted by Angela Lansbury, and includes interviews from a surprising array of participants (though few were still alive when the documentary first aired on TV). This alone would make the disc a must purchase.
But there are also clips from one of the several silent Oz movies made by L. Frank Baum, who created Oz in the first place. A few scenes from a bad silent "Wizard of Oz," starring Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy, are included. There are also scenes from an early-30s Oz cartoon that was never released, plus quite a few clips from a Saturday morning cartoon show that had an Oz theme. There are trailers, newsreel clips, more interviews, the entire script, and two musical numbers cut from the movie. One of these is a dance by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow which was choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Another, "The Jitterbug," survives only as the soundtrack and home movie footage by composer Harold Arlen.
An element the DVD has that the laserdisc lacked is the "Oz Jukebox," a staggering collection of original tracks, both songs and underscore. It's fascinating to hear a very enthusiastic-sounding Judy Garland flub a line and apologize, or Buddy Ebsen doing the Tin Man's songs. (Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man, but the powdered aluminum used to coat his face almost killed him, and he was replaced by Haley.) Unfortunately, there is no way to navigate within the "Jukebox" selections, so you either have to wait through several clips -- which can run as long as ten minutes -- to get to the selection you want, or to fast-forward through the other stuff, hoping to find the right clip. But it's great to have this stuff anyway; you learn that there are other lyrics to some of these songs you've heard so many times. (Like with "Over the Rainbow:" "...someday I'll wake and rub my eyes..." or the Cowardly Lion claiming to be "as gentle as a kitten.")
All this stuff taken together gives the best illustration available on DVD so far of the incredibly complex work involved in bringing a major movie to the screen. The production designs, the effects, the makeups, the acting, the songs -- all are broken down and demonstrated for you. For those with a technical or historical bent, this kind of thing is priceless, but what's important is the movie. The movie, of course, remains, a joyous classic, a masterpiece of its kind, and it's presented as the jewel it is in this great DVD.