The Wizard of Oz will always sit near the top of any list of the greatest films of all time, but once you see Warner Home Video's spectacular 4K UHD rendering of this timeless classic in Dolby Vision, HDR, or HDR10+, you very well might add this release to your list of the greatest discs of all time. If ever you have wondered or questioned whether vintage films could stand up to the über resolution of ultra high definition, this release will not only quash your suspicions and allay your fears, it will also fill you with wonder, exhilaration, and a longing for more Golden Age movies to receive the same glorious treatment. With an array of colors even the proverbial rainbow can't display, crystal clarity, exceptional contrast, room-shaking audio that rivals any contemporary action flick, and hours upon hours of absorbing supplements, this 4K UHD edition of The Wizard of Oz exceeds expectations, dazzles the senses, and instantly becomes one of the top home video releases of the year. Must Own.
With each home video innovation - from VHS and Laserdisc to DVD, Blu-ray, 3D, and now 4K UHD - one special film has always been among the first Golden Age classics to be released in the new format. And every time it's trotted out, almost everyone who loves movies rushes out and grabs the freshly minted upgraded edition. Of course I'm talking about The Wizard of Oz, MGM's 1939 musical fantasy based on the beloved children's book by L. Frank Baum and starring a wistful, wide-eyed, wondrous Judy Garland in the role that would cement and define her career and legacy. This treasured motion picture has touched almost every human being on the planet, and thanks to the folks at Warner Home Video and their commitment to preserving and updating director Victor Fleming's timeless testament to the core ideals of home, family, friendship, and perseverance, The Wizard of Oz will continue to touch audiences young and old for generations to come.
I've loved The Wizard of Oz since I was four years old. I'm 56 now and have seen the film countless times over many decades, and yet the anticipation of seeing Oz in 4K UHD - and Dolby Vision, no less! - was so intense, it brought me back to when I was a kid counting the days until the movie's next annual TV broadcast. My first exposure to The Wizard of Oz was in the mid-1960s on a small black-and-white television with rabbit-ear antennae. To me, the land of Oz didn't look much different from Kansas because our TV couldn't display the glorious Technicolor! So to go from that blah experience all the way to 4-frickin'-K on a 65" OLED screen fifty years later was almost too much for me to imagine. That dorky kid who obsessed over Oz, knew all the song lyrics by heart, and had a puppy-dog crush on Judy Garland that has continued unabated to this day could never have believed in his wildest dreams that he would ever get to see this mind-blowing film in such spectacular splendor.
And yes, even in this advanced age of Marvel and DC and CGI, The Wizard of Oz remains a mind-blowing film. Forget that it was made 80 years ago. The special effects still hold up, and what the MGM technicians were able to imagine and achieve is truly awe-inspiring. Just think... Only a dozen years before Oz premiered, sound was first introduced to the motion picture medium, and just four years prior, the first full-length Technicolor film was released. Movies were still in their relative infancy, yet somehow something as complex, innovative, magical, and captivating as The Wizard of Oz was produced.
The fact that it still holds up so well today - visually, thematically, emotionally, musically - is yet another feather in its celebrated cap. The songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg headlined by the Oscar-winning anthem "Over the Rainbow" never strike a sour note. The adaptation by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf brims with warmth, humor, suspense, and pathos. Harold Rosson's eye-popping cinematography lofts Technicolor into the stratosphere, while Herbert Stothart's brilliant score beautifully complements every beat of the narrative. (The nefarious Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West theme is just as iconic as the foreboding musical strains that punctuate Psycho and Jaws.) Then there are the stupendous sets (Munchkinland, the Emerald City, the Witch's Castle), lavish costumes, and incredible make-up (it's a crying shame there wasn't a Best Make-Up Oscar back then), all of which combine to create a dazzling mise-en-scène. From the dreary, wind-swept plains of sepia-toned Kansas to the psychedelic hues of Oz and back again, the movie immerses us in its mix of fantasy and reality, of hope and longing, of joy and fear, all while taking us on a thrilling, unforgettable journey of discovery.
No journey, though, is worth taking without lovable, relatable guides, and in roles and performances that remain indelibly etched on our collective consciousness, Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Frank Morgan as the Wizard (and about half-a-dozen other characters), Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Billie Burke as Glinda all capture our hearts. In many ways, Garland has the toughest assignment, because she's the only "normal" figure in a fantastical world of fairies, witches, wizards, talking trees, and flying monkeys. Yet somehow, amid all the fire and fury around her, Garland keeps her cool. The tornado may have whisked her up and away, but she remains admirably down to earth, always projecting heartfelt sincerity and embodying all the human qualities we admire. All the portrayals in the film are terrific and stand the test of time, but make no mistake, without Garland as Dorothy, we wouldn't be watching The Wizard of Oz on 4K UHD today. She's the glue that holds this classic film together and the heart and soul that allows it to endure.
The Wizard of Oz is an American institution. As it so eloquently states in its opening prologue, it's a movie for the "young in heart." Its appeal spans generations, languages, cultures, and social and political views. It's not just a part of our film heritage; it really is an essential part of our human heritage as well. This magnificent release preserves this national treasure and presents it in the finest possible light. Hail to Warner for continuing to give us the gift of The Wizard of Oz and making sure this classic for the ages never gets old.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Wizard of Oz arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A standard Blu-ray edition of the film and a leaflet containing a code to access the Movies Anywhere digital copy are tucked inside the front cover. (A SteelBook edition of the film is also available.) Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265, and the film can be viewed in Dolby Vision, HDR, and HDR10+, depending on your compatible equipment. Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
I'm always a little nervous and skeptical when any new, upgraded version of The Wizard of Oz is announced. My initial excitement is tinged with a nagging worry that overzealous technicians might push this age-old classic to the breaking point, and the resulting transfer will either magnify every deficiency or look woefully processed and artificial. I guess I should know better by now, considering that Warner Home Video has taken tremendous care of Oz for two decades. The 1999 DVD, 2009 Blu-ray, and 2013 3D Blu-ray all exceeded expectations, delivering exceptional home video experiences. How long, though, could Warner continue to play the can-you-top-this game? And how long could the studio keep hitting the ball out of the park every time it steps up to the plate? To take the baseball analogy a bit further, the prospect of 4K UHD - at least to the film's rabid fan base - was like batting with the bases loaded down three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the World Series. The stakes couldn't be much higher.
Well, folks, I'm happy to report the home run streak continues. The Wizard of Oz in Dolby Vision, HDR, and HDR10+ is a bona fide grand slam. Every single second of this 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer, which was culled from a brand new 8K 16-bit scan of the original Technicolor camera negative, is pure bliss. I believe Oz is the oldest Hollywood film to yet receive the 4K UHD treatment, and I can say definitively it's the finest ultra high definition rendering of a classic movie I have ever seen. I had to keep reminding myself as I watched this perfectly balanced, incredibly filmic transfer that The Wizard of Oz is 80 years old! It's a cliché to say it looks as if it were made yesterday, but it does!
Of course, the moment of truth comes when Dorothy opens the front door of her house after it crash-lands in Oz to reveal the strange and striking Technicolor wonderland she now inhabits. The simple act always provokes a gasp, but this time it's truly warranted. Any doubt about the quality of this upgrade or the ability of Oz to withstand the scrutiny of UHD evaporates then and there as the camera creeps into Munchkinland and roams its tranquil, polychromatic environs. Kids in candy shops couldn't make their eyes any wider than mine were as I struggled to absorb the glorious optics on the screen. I can't remember freeze-framing a film so many times in such quick succession, so anxious was I to examine and savor every last detail and splash of brilliant color.
Simply put, The Wizard of Oz and Dolby Vision are a match made in heaven. Dolby Vision's expanded color palette and contrast range heighten the film's visual impact. Colors don't just pop, they explode with a dazzling vibrancy that intoxicates the senses. Three-strip Technicolor is often accused of looking artificial, but in a fantasy land like Oz it perfectly complements the dreamy and occasionally nightmarish atmospheres. Never have I seen so many varied hues, and this transfer impeccably renders the subtle gradations between them. Who knew there were so many shades of green and purple? Yet here they are, and each one is distinct, vibrant, and gorgeously saturated. The ruby slippers ignite the screen and sparkle with such intensity, even in long shots, they're reminiscent of those light-up sneakers coveted by today's preschool set. The famed Yellow Brick Road exudes an iridescent sheen, while the red and pink poppy field looks so real and inviting you can almost smell the pungent scent. The first glimpse of the Emerald City awash in twinkling lights literally took my breath away, as did the trio of tinted horses, the billowing flames in the Wizard's chamber, and the array of brightly colored costumes in Munchkinland.
UHD often magnifies film grain in time-honored classics to a distracting degree, but not so here. The image consistently appears natural and remains forever true to Harold Rosson's breathtaking, Oscar-nominated Technicolor cinematography. Never fear, cinephiles, grain is most certainly present, more so in the sepia-toned Kansas scenes than in Technicolor Oz, but it's such an organic element of the frame and so beautifully resolved, we almost don't notice it. Like that spice you just can't identify in a gourmet dish that's essential to its success, the grain supplies necessary texture to the Kansas scenes to emphasize the dusty, drab atmosphere. On the flip side, it adds richness and luster to the three-strip Technicolor, tempering the garish hues and helping all the myriad colors to peacefully coexist.
Clarity and contrast are superb. Freckles are clearly visible on Garland's face; we can fully appreciate the incredible makeup detail that helps the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion appear so lifelike; we can pick out individual faces in a crowded sea of Munchkins during a high-angle boom shot; the straw in the haystack Dorothy leans against while she sings a portion of "Over the Rainbow" exudes palpable dimension; and the reflections on the glossy, deep green Emerald City floors are very crisp. The crystal ball images in the Witch's castle have never been more vivid, nor have the various layers in the film's two vital superimposition shots - the first of Glinda as she waves her wand and commands snow to fall on the poppy field as the Scarecrow and Tin Man yell for help, and the second of Dorothy as she transitions back to Kansas after clicking her heels. Add to that an array of beautifully textured costume fabrics, dense patterns that are sharp and remain rock solid, and the sepia-toned Kansas scenes that brim with a rich, immersive earthiness, and you've got a transfer that not only flirts with perfection, but darn near achieves it.
The spotless source material features inky blacks, bright whites that resist blooming, and excellent shadow delineation. No crush, motion blur, or any digital anomalies afflict the presentation, and no edge sharpening is apparent either. Of course, the painted backdrops are quite noticeable, but no more so than in previous SDR Blu-ray editions. Though all the Oscar-nominated Oz special effects are innovative, many are rudimentary by today's lofty, high-tech standards, yet the increased level of definition doesn't expose any mechanics that weren't visible before, and certainly doesn't make any of the effects look cheap or chintzy. Maybe the flowers in Munchkinland look a tad more synthetic than in previous versions, but really, who cares? Nobody watches The Wizard of Oz for realism.
Everything we do watch it for, however, is meticulously and powerfully presented in this transfer. Somehow it boosts resolution to astounding degrees and yet still looks like film. For any movie of any era that's a feat, but for one from 1939, it's almost a miracle. Could the virtual reality edition of The Wizard of Oz be next? If it's anything like this, I say bring it on!
If you were hoping The Wizard of Oz might get a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X upgrade, you'll be sorely disappointed. With apologies to another famous 1939 movie, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the same one Warner used for the film's 75th anniversary 3D Blu-ray release and it serves the movie well. (The film's original mono track and a music-and-effects track are also included only on the Blu-ray disc and can be accessed via the Special Features menu.) Personally, I'm fine with no Atmos or DTS:X option. Although some overhead audio might make the tornado sequence more immersive and add more creepiness to the descent of the flying monkeys, there's really no reason to overtax the soundtrack. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio provides plenty of sonic power, adding welcome dimension to many aspects of the film. Over the years, Warner technicians have done yeoman's work sprucing up the sound, and the result is a robust, nicely nuanced effort that perfectly complements the glorious visuals.
Most of the audio is front-based (remember, the movie was recorded in mono), but faint surround action occasionally kicks in, usually during extended scoring sequences. Details, such as the chirping baby chicks on Uncle Henry's farm and Dorothy's shrieks when she's carried away by the flying monkeys, are crisp and distinct. Though rear-channel bleed may come at a premium, the subwoofer gets a substantial workout, with plenty of potent low-end accents punctuating the action. When Dorothy's house crash-lands in Oz, a palpable rumble shook my home theater, and when the witch shuts the castle doors as Dorothy and her friends try to escape, another burst of bass emphasized the entrapment. The tornado sequence envelops well, and though it's loud and frenetic, there are enough distinct elements to keep it from becoming a cacophonous mess. In addition, the Wizard's amplified bellowing possesses a wonderful hollow tone, as does the echoing empty chamber of the Tin Man's chest.
A wide dynamic scale, excellent fidelity, and pleasing tonal depth enhance the impact of Herbert Stothart's Oscar-winning music score, and all the vocals sound full-bodied and resonant. Garland's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" is one of cinema's most iconic moments, and never has it exuded more richness, warmth, and purity of tone than it does here. All the dialogue and song lyrics are crystal clear, so even if you don't know the movie by heart like I do, you'll easily understand every line. Any age-related surface noise has been carefully scrubbed away, and no distortion, even during the most active sequences, creeps into the mix.
Most of the fantastic extras from previous Blu-ray editions of The Wizard of Oz have been ported over to this 4K UHD release, but not all. That's an important caveat for the army of fanatical Oz aficionados out there who treasure all the rare supplemental material Warner has shared with the public over the years. So if you own either the 75th anniversary 3D collector's box set and/or the 70th anniversary Blu-ray collector's box set, you'll want to hang to them. (Not that anyone would ever want to part with them anyway!) To check out what's missing from this release, click on the above link. All the supplements that have been transferred to this new 4K UHD edition are described below. It's important to note that no new special features have been produced for this release. That's hardly a shock or even a disappointment considering the wealth of material that already exists.
4K UHD Disc
Audio Commentary – The late director Sydney Pollack emcees this captivating commentary featuring archival reminiscences, analysis, and countless production facts and anecdotes from a host of notable Oz cast members and experts, including Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, the children of Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, producer Mervyn LeRoy, munchkin Jerry Maren (one of the Lollipop Guild boys), and John Fricke, arguably the world's foremost authority on both The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland. Even Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man, who was forced to leave the production after suffering a life-threatening allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in the character's makeup) shares his memories of his brief Oz tenure and MGM's insensitive attitude toward his illness. Fricke anchors the discussion and relates a wealth of information in an affable, accessible manner. From broad themes to obscure minutia, he covers as much as he can in the allotted time (I personally know the man, and what he shares is just a minuscule portion of his vast Oz knowledge) – casting, script changes, set design and special effects, to name but a few – and his substantive remarks augment the personal recollections well. Whether you're an Oz junkie or just discovering the film for the first time, you owe it to yourself to give this informative, entertaining track a listen.
Documentary: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic" (HD, 51 minutes) – Actress and former MGM contract player Angela Lansbury hosts this well-worn 1990 chronicle of the film's colorful production history. On-set accidents, including a grisly episode concerning Margaret Hamilton; technical secrets; studio wheeling and dealing; Munchkin myths; scoring; and deleted scenes, among other topics, are all examined in this slick documentary produced by the Tin Man's son, Jack Haley, Jr.
The audio commentary included on the 4K UHD disc is also included on the Blu-ray disc.
Documentary: "The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (HD, 69 minutes) – This 2013 documentary, narrated by actor Martin Sheen, covers much the same territory as the Lansbury program, but includes a host of fresh interviews with composer Stephen Schwartz, Oz and Garland expert John Fricke, film historian Leonard Maltin, two surviving Munchkins, and even the great-grandson of author L. Frank Baum, among many others. The absorbing film argues that The Wizard of Oz is "an integral part of American culture," and chronicles the property's evolution from book to various film treatments and beyond. We learn about the clever wordplay that distinguishes the lyrics of E.Y. Harburg; the casting of Garland over box office princess Shirley Temple; how W.C. Fields was originally envisioned for the role of the wizard; original Tin Man Buddy Ebsen's life-threatening reaction to the aluminum dust in his silver make-up; an on-set accident that severely burned Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton; the firing of original director Richard Thorpe; and the secret behind the transition from sepia to Technicolor when Dorothy opens the door to Oz. Segments on Toto, the Munchkins, Adrian's costumes, special visual and audio effects, the Technicolor cinematography, the film's premiere, and the impact of TV on Oz are also included, and several myths that have swirled about Oz for decades are debunked. This entertaining and insightful documentary is essential viewing for anyone even casually interested in this legendary film.
"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook" (SD, 10 minutes) – If your kids need a bedtime tale or crave a quick Oz fix, park them in front of the set and let Angela Lansbury read them this charmingly illustrated video storybook.
Featurette: "We Haven't Really Met Properly…" (SD, 21 minutes) – Lansbury returns to narrate nine well-produced mini profiles of Oz cast members that include clips from other films in which the actors appeared, as well as a few fun facts. Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, and even Toto get tributes, but strangely Judy Garland is absent from the lineup. While it would be impossible to encapsulate and honor Garland's illustrious film, television, and concert career in the allotted two-minute timeslot, younger viewers unfamiliar with this powerhouse performer deserve to know that Dorothy constitutes only a portion of Garland's vast contributions to the entertainment world.
Jukebox (70 minutes) – Alternate takes and false starts of "Over the Rainbow" are included here (at one point Garland experiments with a faster tempo), as well as various rehearsal recordings, voice tests, deleted songs, and underscoring. Great stuff!
"Leo Is On the Air" Radio Promo (12 minutes) – This installment of MGM's weekly promotional radio program focuses on The Wizard of Oz and includes excerpts from the film's score, as well as a hefty dose of studio hype.
"Good News of 1939" Radio Show (61 minutes) – Actor Robert Young hosts this hour-long Oz tribute in advance of the film's gala release. Garland, Bolger, and Lahr appear on the MGM-sponsored program, along with composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y Harburg. In addition to the Oz content (which includes a performance of "Over the Rainbow" by Garland), there's also a Baby Snooks sketch starring comedienne Fanny Brice.
12/25/50 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (61 minutes) – It took a while for a radio adaptation of Oz to hit the airwaves, but following Garland's dismissal from MGM in 1950, the 28-year-old actress found time to recreate the role of Dorothy for this Christmas Day broadcast. Although she had clearly outgrown the role, Garland nevertheless brings her trademark sincerity, passion, and boundless talent to this abbreviated audio version of the film.
Sing-Along – Lyrics pop up whenever a song begins in this option for karaoke lovers. Garland wannabes can also select individual songs from a menu list for quicker access.
Music and Effects Track - This track showcases The Wizard of Oz's impressive music score by Herbert Stothart and the spectacular sonic effects engineered by the inventive MGM audio team.
Original Mono Track - Purists will appreciate the chance to hear the Oz soundtrack in its original format.
Stills Galleries (SD) – A whopping 18 galleries include a multitude of photos, promotional material, sketches, and storyboards relating to a wide range of topics from before the project's inception all the way through production, the film's premiere, and various revivals.
Theatrical Trailers (SD, 11 minutes) – One teaser and six trailers span 60 years, from 1938 to 1998.
The Wizard himself may be a fraud, but The Wizard of Oz in 4K UHD is most definitely the real thing. Warner Home Video's stunning, perfectly realized ultra-HD presentation instantly becomes the finest rendering yet of one of Hollywood's greatest and most beloved movies. In glorious Dolby Vision, HDR, and HDR10+, the adventures of Dorothy and her trio of misfit friends in the merry old land of Oz are crisper, more detailed, and especially more colorful than ever before. A dazzling sensory spectacle from the first frame to the last, this UHD edition of The Wizard of Oz exceeds expectations and is now the gold standard against which all future UHD classic film transfers will be judged. Without question, this is a must own disc, and anyone who owns a 4K display and UHD Blu-ray player needs to add this sublime, splendiferous release to their collection. No tornado needed; this definitive edition of The Wizard of Oz takes us over the rainbow and beyond.