The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray

Actors: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr , Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke and Frank Morgan
Format: Live Action, NTSC
Language: English
Number of Discs: 4
Studio: Warner Home Video
Blu-Ray Release Date: September 29, 2009
Run Time: 102 minutes



What is there left to say about The Wizard of Oz? What more can we add that hasn't been expressed more eloquently and lovingly a million times over in the past 70 years?

It occupies a mystic nirvana: a status shared by perhaps two or three other films at the most which exist solely to be embraced and enjoyed by every person on the planet. No amount of criticism can deflate it, no cynical adult sensibilities can mar its perfection. Critics are particularly aware of its status because we normally take delight in slaughtering sacred cows (ask me about Gone With the Wind sometime). But the moment Judy Garland starts singing in that barnyard , we're all six years old again, with nothing left to do but join her.

The question of why it works so well - why it hasn't aged a day despite its clear status as 30s studio product - lies in the indefinable. Its production values are gorgeous, but lesser films of the era produced equally stunning visions. Its story constitutes an ideal blend of simplicity and profundity, but other films have conveyed the Hero's Journey with equal enthusiasm.

Its musical numbers have endured seven decades of emulation, parody and deconstruction, but other films have produced great songs without one-tenth of the retention value. The Wizard of Oz thrives on all those elements, and yet through some invisible combination thereof - some X-factor nestled between the lines - it strikes a chord that resonates in the very deepest recesses of our souls.

Much of the credit still goes to L. Frank Baum, who created the characters in the first place and whose essence remains despite the considerable changes MGM put his creations through. We've become so accustomed to Ray Bolger's Scarecrow, Jack Haley's Tin Woodsman and Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion that we miss how unique and imaginative they really were.

Each embodies some apparent shortcoming so perfectly and yet each possesses copious amounts of the very qualities they believe they lack. It's up to Dorothy (Judy Garland) to help them see that, even as she herself discovers her own strength and resiliency. Her long journey home not only empowers her to step past the limits imposed by others, but gives her friends that same power - power which, as the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) reminds her, needed awakening rather than acquiring.

And for all its humor, music and beauty, The Wizard of Oz carries a certain sadness with it as well. Some of that stems from Garland, a desperately unhappy woman who struggled with demons her whole life, and whose performance here was already tinged with subtle shades of darkness. But it resonates on a larger scale as well, echoing the trip from childhood to adulthood and the things we both gain and lose on the way. The movie's joys hold up because it knows that they will someday end. But since they are transient, so too are the scarier parts of Dorothy's journey - destined to fade but leaving a little hard-earned wisdom behind.

We've all traveled that same path, which The Wizard of Oz reflects back at us with exquisite insight. We love it because it knows what we've been through and because it tells us everything will be all right. Like those four misfits on the road, we have everything we need; it just takes a little effort to discover for ourselves.

THE DISC: That the transfer is gorgeous goes without saying. Warners obtained a copy of the original nitrate for the digital restoration, and the difference between this version and older versions can be seen quite readily. The Blu-Ray set contains a veritable brick of goodies, most of which have appeared in earlier versions, but some of which are brand new.

Four discs are included, containing a digital copy of the film for download and a huge fistful of documentaries (one of which covers MGM as a whole rather than just The Wizard of Oz). It also holds a book on the history of the film, another book containing material from the 1939 release, a copy of the original budget and a watch commemorating the 70th anniversary. Lord knows how they're going to top it for the 75th.

WORTH IT? Sweet merciful McGillicuddy, yes. Whether casual watcher or devoted fanatic, serious film lover or just someone who knows a few kids, if you don't own this set, there's little point to owning anything else.

RECOMMENDATION: Step away from the computer right now, drive immediately to your nearest Blu-Ray purveyor, grab him by the coat lapels and shake him like a rag doll until he produces a copy for you to purchase forthwith.

- Rob Vaux



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