What can one say about The Wizard of Oz that hasn’t already been said? It overcame a troubled production, a flawed plot, and enough casting changes to fill a dozen movies to create a piece of indescribably beautiful cinematic magic. As adults, we can snark at its idiosyncrasies, marvel at the awkward questions we missed (“The Wizard sent them off to die; they’re not pissed about that?!”), and notice the things we never did as a child (“If it was all a dream, won’t Miss Gulch be coming back for the dog?!”). But the moment “Somewhere over the Rainbow” starts up, all that cynicism melts away. We’re five years old again, ready to follow that Yellow Brick Road wherever it might lead, and reminded that no amount of criticism can possibly damage this movie. It’s justly celebrated as the most beloved film of all time, a title I daresay it will never relinquish. It exists to be loved and cherished; there’s simply nothing else to say about it. The new 75th anniversary Blu-ray collection does full justice to it, though one wonders how necessary it is after the earlier 70th anniversary edition already set such a high standard. Hit the jump for the full review.
The film itself has already been analyzed in every conceivable way over the course of the years, and yet there’s something indefinable that makes it all come together. Some serendipitous combination of the songs, the cast, the set, the performances and L. Frank Baum’s original novel… all of it gelled in a unique way that no one could have anticipated, and which even now evades formal definition. Indeed the film’s well-documented production hardships added a twinge of darkness to it all, the perfect counter to its largely joyful tone. That allows Dorothy to earn her trip home through the countless terrors of Oz, terrors we felt acutely the first time we saw it and which never really faded in the ensuing years. Against that, the beautiful sets, upbeat songs and marvelous characters help gird her courage and remind her to enjoy the happy parts of her travels as well as enduring the unhappy ones.
That makes it an apt blueprint for the Hero’s Journey, something to give us all a little hope (as well as brains, heart and courage) as we make our way through life. The combination of innocence and wisdom helps it transcend its one-of-a-kind 1930s atmosphere to become truly immortal. We see it when we’re kids and it becomes a part of us forever; then we show it to our own kids and the cycle starts again. Few other films can hold up to such intense exposure decade after decade, and none can do so with such a universal appeal.
All that’s self-evident to anyone who has seen it… which is pretty much everyone at this stage. Warners, understanding the gravitas involve with delivering this film, has produced a lavish 75th anniversary Blu-ray to celebrate it, complete with all the bells and whistles one could possibly imagine. That actually brings it crashing against the 70th anniversary edition from a few years ago; if you strip the contents of the box set away, they contain almost the same things, making this a rather flagrant example of double-dipping. That said, the new set is just as well-put-together as the old, and choosing between the two may prove to be quite a chore.
The film itself is practically unchanged from the 70th to the 75th. The transfer was done with the utmost care, and the visual and audio quality is top-notch. The 75th anniversary version contains a 3D copy, which is new, but otherwise has the same Blu-ray/DVD/Digital copies that the 70th does. The additional Blu-ray features neatly duplicate all of the copious behind-the-scenes goodies from the 70th: audio commentaries from historian John Fricke, coupled with older sound clips from the cast and crew; separate music and effects tracks; the original mono audio mix for those who kick it old school; an 11-minute condensed version of the book read by Angela Lansbury; mini-biographies of the major cast and crew members; trailers; radio broadcasts related to the film; stills galleries; multiple documentaries covering the impact of the film; a 1990 biopic of L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter and Annette O’Toole; a series of silent films set in Oz which were released before the famous version; rare outtakes cut from the final version; a clip of Judy Garland’s receipt of a special Academy Award for work in the film; a six-hour opus on the history of MGM; and a new one-hour documentary covering the film’s production, narrated by Martin Sheen.
That last one is the only new component on the disc, replacing an earlier documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury. The boxed set does contain an all-new series of tchotchkes, including a map of Oz, a ruby slippers glow light, pins based on the Wizard’s rewards at the end of the film, a journal to write in and a beautiful 52-page book containing production photos along with a timeline of the film’s development. The 70th anniversary has its own goodies in its own boxed set, but those are really the biggest differences. (The 75th anniversary version wisely puts the discs in a standard Blu-ray case, letting you set the box case aside and put the discs themselves in with the rest of your Blu-rays. You can also buy the discs without the big boxed set if you’re on a budget.)
All of that’s a roundabout way of saying that you probably don’t need the new Blu-ray set if you have the old one. Unless your love of Oz paraphernalia is enough to justify the cost of purchase (and for some people, it definitely is), the 70th anniversary version will do the job just as well. On the other hand, the 70th anniversary edition currently costs over twice as much on Amazon as the new one, making this one more cost-effective if you don’t yet have the film on Blu-ray and want to go whole hog with the purchase. Warners couldn’t have let the anniversary pass without acknowledging it in some way, and this new set is a terrific addition to any collection: an apt celebration of a film for which the medium was seemingly created.