“The Wizard of Oz” remained a favorite of mine all through my childhood and after so much advancement in special effects, it’s still a marvel to watch. Fleming and Warner’s partnering was a match made in heaven as Fleming took the L. Frank Baum beloved novel and gave us a fantasy epic that’s been mimicked and beloved since its initial release. Years after wearing down my old VHS copy I’ve managed to view the Victor Fleming masterpiece as one of the weirdest films ever made. Watching it from the view of a child differs from when you see it as an adult and watching it on the restored 70th Anniversary edition has brought to mind some images that seemed normal then that are surprisingly surreal today.
Marked with a history that is quite colorful and intriguing, there’s no shortage of surprises when it comes to the 1939 classic that tells the story of young Dorothy and you probably know the rest if you were once a child fed this brilliant film whenever mom or dad wanted to stimulate your mind with visuals that are almost a precursor to what Tim Burton would later accomplish as well as inspire future fantasy filmmakers who have one time turned to Oz for inspiration. Rewatching it, “The Wizard Of Oz” bears the basic structure of Alice in Wonderland except the world here is much more expansive and worthy of being discovered. From the murderous trees to the evil witch, Fleming presents an array of memorably creepy imagery that will burn itself in to its viewers while accompanying it with the engaging story and marvelous performances by Judy Garland, as well as the still effective supporting performance by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow seeking a brain.
Decades later and it’s all still such a fresh and vibrant experience and the 70th Anniversary Edition pulls no punches. The DVD presents consumers with a load of extras, some fresh and some transferred from past editions. On Disc One, There’s a feature length commentary hosted by the late Sydney Pollack who hosts a series of gathered commentaries by historian John Fricke as well as some of the surviving cast including Ray Bolger and Margaret Hamilton, respectively. There are some great nuggets and facts presented and the compilation of interviews work to benefit the experience for the viewer. For example, did you know the clouds at the opening credits were real while all of the film was shot on sound stages? Fascinating, and it only gets better. There’s a ten Minute Wizard of Oz Storybook which plays short hand to Baum’s classic story. This feature is good for younger viewers as it gives us the best moments brought together in a short retelling of the movie. It’s pretty good but a little too truncated for my tastes. “Prettier than Ever: The Restoration of Oz” is an eleven minute look at the process of restoring a film that’s been retouched again and again over the years. This of course leads us back to this edition. It’s a rather great feature, in fact it’s one of my favorites on the list. “We Haven’t Really Met Properly…” is a series of character profiles that teach us about the back stories of the principal characters and who is behind the make up and costumes. It’s very informative, especially considering all of the profiles are about two to three minutes long. Still going, we’re given the Sound Effects and Score version of the film as well as a Mono Track.
Finally we have a Sing Along attachment that allows the viewer to sing the songs with the characters through easily readable subtitles! I love this feature. Disc Two is no exception to Disc One as it garners a comprehensive list of facts, Making of featurettes and even outtakes. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic” is a fifty minute look at–well–the making of “The Wizard of Oz” and how its stars dealt with their fame before and after the film. “Memories of Oz” is a twenty seven minute Turner Classic Movies special that once again contains interviews from surviving cast members and their relatives and how the movie made such an impact in their lives. “The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz” is a thirty minute peek inside the sets of the by way of archival footage and photos and how MGM had such profound effect on the gathering of talent and how various celebrities perceive the movie itself. “Because of the Wonderful Things it Does” is a look back at the magic of the story of Oz and how television and the evolution of technology helped the classic become even more of a behemoth with children and parents alike, not to mention the fascinating interpretations the story created with scholars, film lovers, and even feminists alike. “Harold Arlen’s Home Movies” is a four minute home footage montage of Arlen’s make up tests and cast interaction that’s quite fun to watch. It’s the forming of the Cowardly Lion! And the Tin Man! You have to love it.
“Outtakes and Deleted Scenes” displays the entire musical numbers except extended to show what producers originally cut out in post production. It’s a nice feature but there aren’t any outtakes I saw, mostly it’s just extended and cut musical numbers. “It’s a Twister! It’s a Twister!” is a short look at the special effects of the film which, to this day, still look state of the art even though the mechanics behind the tornado tests are basic and pretty simple. Though simplicity makes up some of the most realistic tornado footage I’ve seen on film in a while. “Off to See the Wizard” is a four minute look at “Off to See the Wizard” a series that acted as an intro to special television movies introduced by various Oz characters as voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc. I had no idea such a series existed so this is a must see.
“From the Vault” are small video clips that discusses the evolution of celluloid and the Cavalcade of Academy Awards as directed by Frank Capra that gives a glimpse at the slight controversy when Capra replaced Garland’s excellent rendition of “Over the Rainbow” at the Oscars with footage of her singing it in “The Wizard of Oz.” Last but Not Least we’re given a Stills Gallery of rare on set and movie captures, along with a compilation of various Theatrical Trailers for the film. There are about three hours of exhaustive special features including a storybook and a host of other bells and whistles that will interest the average collector or family looking for something great to watch. “The Wizard of Oz” is still awe inspiring, and the 70th Anniversary release reminds us why.