On the DVD Shelf with Eric: ‘Wizard of Oz’
I am a DVD collector. I know in this day and age with so many things being available on digital formats or streaming that may seem strange to some.
But I’ll always prefer being able to look on my shelf, grab the DVD I want, take it to the player and cue it up that way. Plus it’s nice to know if the internet or these streaming services ever go down as long as I have power I can still watch my movies. Perhaps it comes from my still being alive during the golden age of video rental stores.
As a DVD collector who has been at this for some time I thought it would be nice to help others who want to get into the hobby or just want some help. I research my DVDs before I buy and in fact it’s EXTREMELY rare for me to buy a movie I haven’t already seen. I don’t want to be stuck with a film I end up not liking. As it happens I got a hold of two different versions of “The Wizard of Oz” on DVD and the differences are quite interesting. Hopefully after reading this, you’ll know which one you want to own. So let’s get started.
The two versions I have here are the 70 and the 75th Anniversary editions of “The Wizard of Oz” DVD. The 2-disc versions of both to be exact. Both of these were originally released as part of a larger box set. A common practice now, to then release a smaller stripped down version of 2-disc for those who may want the movie and some of the features, but don’t want to commit to the big price point of the box. So there may be some aspects like that that may affect things and I’ll bring up my research on the box sets if it’s relevant, but remember this is just a comparison of the 2-disc versions (i.e. the more common way of finding them in a store) only.
Normally this isn’t terribly important, but it is something that could affect someone’s decision. I’ll just come out and say it, the 70th looks better. It’s striking and draws your eyes. It has a cool shade of emerald-green, which is appropriate. Plus it has all of the main characters on the cover. Compare that to the 75th edition where it mostly focuses on Dorothy’s face and that’s it. I’ll admit it’s colorful and some iconic landscapes are seen with the yellow brick road and the Emerald City in the background. But the 70th just looks more… special or to put it another way it’s just simply more aesthetically pleasing to look at. I also personally like how the O in Oz has one of the gate keepers inside it. I like it because that’s something the illustrators often did with the books and as a fan I like that little reference. The 75th looks like a run-of-the-mill DVD. But we all know that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or a DVD in this case). It’s what’s on the disc that matters.
The Film, Audio/Picture/1st Disc
They’re literally the same. My laptop even read them as the same disc. The audio and picture quality is great. With films this old even if you have the original negative there’s only but so much you can do to clean it up. I’m sure the Blu-ray looks even better, but probably only by a little. The point I’m getting at is if you just want to own a good-looking/sounding version of the movie this will do just fine. If you’re interested in commentaries this disc also has you covered with one done by film historian John Fricke. Now the thing about commentaries is that they’re almost always better when made years after the fact so the makers have had time to reflect on it. It leads to more interesting commentaries in my opinion. However, with classic films oftentimes anyone who was actually involved with the film is either dead or too old to participate in a meaningful way. Although with film historians they tend to be fans themselves and are just full of info so they’re rarely uninteresting. He mentions a number of factoids that I had never come across in my readings before.
Like with my “Exorcist III: Legion” Blu-Ray video review it’s a pick your poison sort of thing. Not that either versions of the special features are bad, it’s about which sort of features interest you more. The 75th has a proper “Making of the Wizard of Oz” documentary. For me that’s often the most important kind of feature in DVD shopping. Now in the previous DVD releases they had a documentary that was originally made for television hosted by Angela Lansbury called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (nice book reference). Having not only grown up with that documentary and it being one of the first making of’s I ever saw, all other making of’s of “The Wizard of Oz” have a lot to live up to for me. I would have been satisfied if they had just ported it over to the newer editions. This new making of does tell you some new information, but mostly it’s the same. It leaves a few bits out which bothers me, but the new bits do make up for it. Also, it’s narrated by Martin Sheen so all is forgiven. They also had two shorter documentaries too about the impact of the film which for classic films like this are incredibly well done.
On the 70th edition we strangely get NO Making Of. I’d understand if this was a bare bones DVD, but for a special anniversary edition it’s crazy not to have it. Instead, it has a documentary on the life and career of Victor Fleming the director of the majority of “The Wizard of Oz.” As he is considered one of the greatest directors of the golden age of Hollywood it is a good documentary choice. The other is a documentary on the author of the original book, L. Frank Baum. He’s a fascinating man and the documentary does a good job of telling the story of how he created Oz. The tension of if he’ll finally find something to succeed at feels like it could make a feature film. Funny I should mention that since the other main feature is a made-for-TV movie about the life of L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter called “The Dreamer of Oz.” I had never even heard of this before so for the “discovery” it is pretty cool, but again no substitute for a proper Making Of. For me the ideal version would be with all the features in one release. From my research the 75th box set has them all. Although I’ve never seen it in stores so I think for most these discs will have to do for most of us.
It’s all going to come down to your own preferences on DVD’s. For me the 75th version has more of the kinds of things I prefer. Although I could see why someone would opt for the 70th. My hope is not to sway you one way or the other, but to help you out with your own DVD collecting. Happy hunting!