DirectorVictor Fleming, King Vidor (uncredited)
Release Date(s)1939 (October 29, 2019)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Based on the popular 1900 children’s book by L. Frank Baum, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a young Kansas farm girl who runs away from home one day and is caught outside during a tornado. Knocked unconscious during the storm, Dorothy wakes up in a mysterious land called Oz, inhabited by Munchkins, Witches, and other magical creatures. As wondrous as Oz is though, Dorothy wants nothing more than to return home. A good witch named Glinda (Billie Burke) says she’ll need the help of the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) in the Emerald City to go back, but Dorothy quickly runs afoul of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) who means to stop her. Fortunately, Dorothy is befriended on her quest by the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Cowardly Lion (Bret Lahr), each of whom is kind and needs something too. So together they make their way to the Emerald City hoping that the Wizard will make each of their wishes come true.
The Wizard of Oz wasn’t the first Hollywood production to employ the three-strip Technicolor filming process, but it’s certainly become one of the most popular and well-known (along with Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Disney’s animated Snow White and the Seven Dawrfs). This success was certainly helped by the fact that the book upon which it was based was wildly popular at the time. The film’s musical fantasy nature surely contributed too, with memorable songs and score, lavish and fantastical production design, and of course iconic performances by Garland and others. But it was in 1956 that the film’s popularity reached another level after its broadcast television premiere on CBS. Repeat broadcasts became an annual CBS event (one I certainly recall experiencing as a child in the 1970s), a tradition that continued well into the 1990s. As a result, the Library of Congress reports that The Wizard of Oz is the most widely seen film of all time.
For its 80th anniversary release on 4K Ultra HD, the film’s original Technicolor nitrate camera negative was newly scanned in 8K resolution and 16-bit color (improving upon the already good 8K 10-bit scan done in 2009 for the film’s 70th anniversary release on Blu-ray). Additional digital restoration was done as needed, along with wire removal and the like (though details like the edges of make-up were left intact to retain the film’s handmade quality). The image was finished in the original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio and a very restrained high dynamic range grade has been completed. I can confirm that a great deal of time and effort was taken to get the HDR right—too much and the film’s Technicolor look could become gaudy. In fact, Warner was already hard at work on this back in 2017 when I visited the studio for the 4K release of the studio’s Christopher Nolan films. HDR is available on this disc in HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision formats—whichever version you choose, you’re going to have a terrific experience (though 12-bit Dolby Vision no doubt has the modest edge). It would be safe to say that even audiences who experienced The Wizard of Oz in theaters back in 1939 didn’t see it looking this good. This 4K image is an absolute marvel. There’s subtle detail here that I’ve certainly never noticed before. You can actually see the burlap texture on the Scarecrow’s face, not to mention the subtle rust texturing on the Tin Man’s costume. Even in the film’s sepia-toned opening, the depth and dimensionality is remarkable as Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” while leaning against a bale of hay. And the color! Hues have a richness and nuance that’s clearly always been there in the negative, but that none of us have ever really seen before. Again, the HDR grade is subtle—it’s just enough to give image a luminous appearance without crossing the line. Glinda’s crown and jewelry shimmer, Dorothy’s ruby slippers sparkle, the fire elements cast by the Wicked Witch have bright glow. Shadows are still deep and detailed. All of it is stunning. To be sure, this certainly still looks like an 80-year-old film, with light to light-moderate grain and occasional optical softness. But my goodness—no 80-year-old film has ever looked this good on my projection screen before!
Sound is included on the 4K disc in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format. It’s a fine remix that retains the soundtrack’s original mono character, with only very subtle and atmospheric use of the surrounds—for example during the tornado scene and for music when Dorothy first arrives in Oz. Clarity is generally quite good, especially for an analog sound recording of this age. This certainly isn’t a bass monster, nor will it dazzle with panning and movement. But what you get is a modestly expanded soundstage and a mix with a rich and natural quality that remains faithful to the film’s vintage. I do wish the 4K disc included the original mono audio as well (but that at least is available on the Blu-ray version of the film in this package). Additional audio options include French, German, Russian, and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1, Castilian Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish Voice-Over in Dolby Digital Mono, and Latin Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0. Optional subtitles include English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, and Thai.
As far as special features, there’s really nothing new here, but you do get a fine collection of legacy extras that were created for previous Blu-ray and DVD releases. The 4K disc itself offers:
- Audio Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy, and Jerry Maren
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic (SD upsampled to HD – 51:28)
The Blu-ray version is the same one created in 2009, which again means it’s mastered from an 8K restoration (just not the new one). This disc includes the same audio commentary track, plus the following extras:
- The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (HD – 69:02)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook (SD – 10:27)
- We Haven’t Really Met Properly… (SD – 9 segments – 21:23 in all)
- Music and Effects Track (48K Dolby Digital mono)
- Original Mono Track (48K Dolby Digital mono)
- Sing-Along (interactive viewing option)
- Audio Jukebox (18 tracks in 48K Dolby Digital mono – 71:04 in all)
- Leo Is on the Air Radio Promo (audio only – 12:25)
- Good News of 1939 Radio Show (audio only – 61:01)
- 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (audio only – 60:48)
- Stills Galleries (18 galleries in all)
- Theatrical Trailers (SD & HD – 7 trailers – 13:53 in all)
These extras are just as lovely and comprehensive as before. It’s also quite a lot of material for a film of this vintage. And of course you get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging.
Warner’s new 4K Ultra HD release of The Wizard of Oz is a revelation, a picture-perfect example of classic film restoration done right. Honestly, knowing the quality and integrity of the studio’s restoration team, I knew this disc would look great. But I really didn’t expect to be unable to take my eyes off this disc once I started playing it. Every fan of The Wizard of Oz deserves to see it looking this good… and every self-respecting cinephile who’s made the transition to 4K owes it to themselves to add this disc to their collection. Very highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt