`Wizard Of Oz’ Comes To Life On Ultra HD Blu-ray
Holiday shoppers looking for a gift to delight a 4K Ultra HDTV enthusiast might want to consider picking up the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the MGM Classic The Wizard of Oz.
It might be hard for some to believe that a movie this old (it was released in 1939) can benefit from yet another format update, but for home theater enjoyment, we found the beloved classic has never looked better, short of the original film being presented in a movie theater.
Obviously, The Wizard of Oz ($29.99 street price) couldn’t be re-shot with new digital cinema cameras capable of capturing a range of light exceeding 14 stops, or re-recorded with surround sound, but the upconversion and audio transcoding process to 4K and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround produces amazingly clear visuals and dialog that keeps and preserves all of the original nuances right down to the film grain. In short, it looks almost as good as it did on film, without a lot of added noise or artifacts.
Of course, the capabilities of the 4K Ultra HDTV and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player through which this is presented will have a lot to do with just how clear, colorful and bright this will look in your paticular home theater, but for 4K/HDR televisions capable of even a moderately wide color gamut and peak brightness level, this version of the film is not only the best yet, it should both dazzle and captivite anyone who has ever treasured this film event.
As it did with the 4K UHD Blu-ray release of last year’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, Warner Home Video has done an excellent job of rendering and preserving The Wizard of Oz for the digital age. The title is offered in a pack with both standard Full HD 1080p Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc versions, the latter adding not only 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution but the HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) profiles for compatibility with just about any HDR capable television in the market. Purchasers also get a 4K Ultra HD digital version to boot.
To produce the astonishingly clear images in this 4K/HEVC H.265 transfer, the Warner team used a new 8K 16-bit scan of the original Technicolor camera negative. This helps to make colors pop especially in the rosy cheeks of most of the cast and glowing green makeup of the Wicked Witch of the West.
We watched the film on a Samsung 4K QLED TV in HDR10+ with dynamic metadata and tone mapping. To our taste, we found turning on noise reduction helped to reduce the film grain a bit, producing a cleaner and smoother overall look without significantly dulling the image sharpness.
Interestingly, in both the Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray versions, the famous monochrome Kansas “reality” portion of the film is treated with a sepia tint giving the scenes an antique effect that makes the sudden transition to Technicolor all the more startling. In the film, this transition occurs right after Dorothy’s airborne house crashes into Munchkinland. We found sepia tone stands out more in HDR and this might contrast a bit with the memories of those of us who first saw the movie on black-&-white television sets in the 1960s. For a while it was regularly featured as a special event around the Thanksgiving holiday.
The 4:3 aspect ratio of the original film is maintained throughout the movie, without any distracting stretching, annoying cutoffs or frame pan and scans to make the squarish frame fit today’s 16:9 screens.
With HDR, specular highlights are noticeably brighter with 3D qualities. This can be seen in the bright white glint of the characters’ eyes, the glitter of Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the fireballs hurled by the Wicked Witch at the Scarecrow.
On the 4K/HDR disc, black was deep and nuanced with fine detail, giving added depth and dimension to other colors in the frame.
Owners of the previous 3D Blu-ray version of The Wizard of Oz will find the same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack available in this collection. This is an excellent surround sound mix for what was available. Unfortunately, there is no DTS:X object-based audio enhancement added for this version. For those purists who want the original as it was originally release, an original mono track and a music-and-effects track are included on the Blu-ray disc. This can be accessed through the Special Features menu.The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix offers a nice wide soundstage that gives the movie a more immersive experience. The 1939 audio recording technologies of the day leave the dialog and music a little thin and flat by today’s standards. But on a good home theater system or soundbar the nice wide overall sound is nothing short of amazing considering this was originally produced some 80 years ago.
This presentation offers a nice complement of bonus content, much of which appears on the standard Blu-ray Disc. The Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc adds the 1990 CBS “The Making of A Movie Classic” documentary and the running audio commentary overlay with various actors, technicians and experts is always fascinating to revist to get the real news on the apparently mythologized shananigans that took place among the munchkins on and off set. The late great Judy Garland’s archived talk show interviews from years after the film was made offer some intriguing insight into her sense of the dramatic with a little behind-the-scenes embellishment.
The commentary portion goes into great scene-by-scene detail on the actual making of the film. This includes voice overlays from 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 Blu-ray Disc offers even more extras including: The Making of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook; We Haven’t Really Met Properly…; Music & Effects Track; Original Mono Track; Sing Along Tracks; Audio Jukebox; Leo is on the Air Radio Promo; Good News of 1939 Radio Show; 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Broadcast; Still Galleries and Trailers.
By now most of us are very familiar with The Wizard of OZ as an MGM Classic that stands the test of time for young and old. This 4K enhanced version of the movie is a welcome new presentation that brings Dorothy and friends to live as never before and makes a further case for the validity of perhaps this last disc-based video format. The team at Warner Home Video have done an excellent job with color and contrast grading, showing HDR technology a powerful new capability for a wide range of applications both old and new. We expect to be adding this disc to our test materials when reviewing 4K Ultra HDTVs going forward.
We therefore award give the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Wizard of Oz five out of five hearts.
By Greg Tarr
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