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· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
For fans of this film who are considering purchasing the expensive box set as opposed
to the cheaper single box Wal-mart Blu-Ray, I thought I'd review the supplements so
you can determine whether you want to spend the extra money...

Many of the extras have been carried over from the previous Special Edition. There is
the Angela Lansbury documentary which is midly entertaining. Also a short documentary
about the author, Frank Baum, that is okay. The commentary track advertised film
director, Sidney Pollack, which was a curious choice and intrigued me. Unfortunately,
Pollack does very little other than introduce other historians who discuss the production
of the film. That was a frustrating tease. The actual discussion is interesting although
no information was disclosed that I wasn't already aware of. The documentary about
Victor Fleming is acceptable. The demonstration of the restoration is completely out
of date. They show the film being scanned at 4K back in 2005 even though this Blu-Ray
was a brand new transfer at 8K which will confuse some people. There are old clips
of the surviving Munchkins (at the time) and children of the stars. Burt Lahr's daughter
looks exactly like him.

The second disc contains some curios but is also disappointing. Baum tried to direct some
early movies based on his books. He was a talented Children's book writer but had no
abilities as a film-maker. These series of movies were made in the very early days of the
medium. Basically he just puts the characters in appropriate costumes and they over-act
in wide shot with title cards explaining what was going on. Very primitive and un-cinematic.
The conditions of these rare films is horrible. I had a tough time sitting through them because
the surviving copies were splicey, scratchy, decomposing nitrate dupes. Barely an image
on many of them. There is also a public domain Technicolor cartoon from an obscure studio
that runs about five minutes. It's also in terrible shape and very worn. It has little to
do with the story and just uses some of the characters in the Baum story for some surrealistic
animation. The only interesting element is that the prologue is in black and white and Oz
sequence in Technicolor which the later 1939 feature replicated.

There is also the complete 1925 feature version of "The Wizard of Oz". It starred Larry
Semon who also directed and produced it. It's an excellent condition tinted and toned
nitrate copy. One of the best surviving examples of the silent era. Unfortunately it's
a terrible movie and was such a bomb when it came out, Semon went bankrupt. Allegedly,
he was a popular comedian of that era although based on his performance in this
picture it's hard to determine why. He looks a little like Stan Laurel (and was briefly
partnered with him) but his slapstick is very forced and desperate. Like the cartoon,
Semon just took some of the characters from the Baum book to create an un-related
fairy tale which makes little sense. However, there are some interesting things about
this bomb if you skim through it. Oliver Hardy (two years before teaming with Laurel)
played the Tin man in this version. The special effects of the cyclone are pretty good
for that era. The farm hands later become the characters in Oz which was also adapted
by the 1939 version. Otherwise, it's one of the worst silent comedies I've ever seen
and it's a pity it turned out to be one of the best condition copies too. They used to
sell Super 8 prints of it when I was an adolescent. Because it wasn't well received,
good condition copies existed. Most popular films of the Silent era were victims of
their own success since all prints were made directly from the 35mm nitrate camera
negative. The more popular the movie, the more worn out the negatives and prints
if anything survived at all since most Silents had decomposed before the introduction
of tri-acetate safety film in 1948.

The third disc is better. It features the three part documentary, "MGM: When the Lion Roars".
It's a good general overview of the history of that studio although it avoids
controversy just summarizing what happened with clips of the movies. I read many books about
the moguls. The battles and corporate intrigue between Mayer, Thalberg and Schary is
skimmed over. Patrick Stewart narrates the film in a very theatrical manner. Fortunately
he has an excellent speaking voice and his hammy commentary seems appropriate for the
subject matter. Like most documentaries, the clips they use are from the un-restored versions of the movies.
Rather than replace the footage with the up-graded copies, you'll see segments from "The
Wizard of Oz" that are full of dust and dirt. At the very least they should have corrected those
scenes for this Blu-Ray. I enjoyed this documentary in general although I wish they had
covered the participants in more detail even if it offended some people. Those early
movie moguls were great Showmen who made spectacular movies. But they were also
ruthless, egotistical and vindictive. They spent a great deal of time trying to put each other
out of business as Mayer did to William Fox. You'll need to do some supplemental reading to
find out what really happened since this movie glosses over it. For example, Stewart notes
that when Schary became the production head the studio split into pro-Schary and pro-Mayer
factions. But we only hear interviews fromt the pro-Mayer survivors.

There are other materials on these three discs like pictures and illustrations.
Also a watch, copy of the budget, campaign book and other fun stuff. If you're a real
afficianado of this classic it's worth the money. Otherwise, just buy the Wal-mart Blu-Ray
for the superior transfer.
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