When it was released during Hollywood's golden year of 1939, The Wizard of Oz wasn’t regarded as anything like the perennial classic it has since become. The film did respectable business, but it wasn't until its debut on television that this family favourite saw its popularity soar. And while Oz's TV broadcasts are now controlled by media mogul Ted Turner (who owns the rights), the advent of home video has made this lively musical a mainstay in the staple diet of great American films.
Young Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), her dog, Toto, and her three companions on the yellow brick road to Oz -- the Tin Man (Jack Haley), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) -- have become pop-culture icons and central figures in the legacy of fantasy for children. As the Wicked Witch who covets Dorothy's enchanted ruby slippers, actress Margaret Hamilton has had the singular honor of scaring the wits out of children for more than six decades. The film's still as fresh, frightening and funny as it was when first released. It may take some liberal detours from the original story by L. Frank Baum, but it's loyal to the Baum legacy while charting its own course as a spectacular film. Shot in glorious Technicolor, befitting its dynamic production design (Munchkinland alone is a psychedelic explosion of colour and decor), The Wizard of Oz may not appeal to every taste as the years go by, but it's nonetheless required viewing for kids of all ages. --Jeff Shannon
DVD features The Wizard of Oz DVD released in 1999 was loaded with extra features, but it's now safe to throw away that version in all its cardboard-package glory in favour of the new three-disc edition. First things first: All the bonus material from the earlier disc is there. That includes the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Making of a Movie Classic, which is worth the price of the DVD alone; then there are the outtakes and deleted scenes, including Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the home-movie recording of "The Jitterbug"; the sketches and stills and composer Harold Arlen's home movies; the audio underscores and radio programs; the 1979 interviews with Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley; and other items too numerous to mention. (Some text introductions to the features have been replaced by narration by Lansbury.)
Brand new to this edition is a sharp restoration using Warner's Ultra Resolution process and an accompanying featurette on how it's done. The technicians also discuss how the sound was remixed, though that would have been more effective had it included surround-sound demonstrations. Other features on the new set include a commentary track by critic John Fricke supplemented by vintage cast interviews (he offers a lot of trivia, and debunks the myth that Shirley Temple was ever close to getting the Dorothy role); profiles of nine cast members and clips of other movies they appeared in (including Toto); a lightly animated 10-minute storybook again narrated by Lansbury; 2001 and 2005 behind-the-scenes featurettes; and a 1950 Lux Radio Theater broadcast.
The old 1999 disc also included one-minute excerpts of three early treatments of The Wizard of Oz. The third disc of this new three-disc collector's edition includes the complete versions of those treatments and more. They are four silent films: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910, 13 min.), The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914, 38 min.), His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914, 59 min., written and directed by Baum himself), The Wizard of Oz (1925, 72 min., Larry Semon). The fifth treatment is Ted Eshbaum's 1933 Technicolor cartoon short which has songs and sound, and is the first depiction of Kansas in black and white and Oz in colour. The third disc also has a 38-minute biography of L. Frank Baum and collector's-edition supplements include a gorgeous set of photo cards among other materials. This is a gloriously comprehensive addition to anyone’s classic DVD collection. --David Horiuchi