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There's No Place Like Home ... in High-Def

By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 12:00 AM

The ruby slippers are at their rubiest, the field full of poppies nearly pops off the screen and the Emerald City? It couldn't gleam much greener than it does in "The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition," a mega-box set -- released today on DVD ($69.92) and Blu-ray ($84.99) -- that boasts a newly remastered glimpse at that merry old land somewhere over the rainbow.

"Oz's" debut in Blu-ray's high-definition format prompted this latest makeover, which follows on the heels of the restoration seen on the 2005 DVD release. As exceptional as the picture was then, the clarity of this version dances darn close to flawless. Seriously, if you can't follow the ultra-bright path of this yellow brick road, your only options are: a. visit an optometrist, or b. attempt to find Munchkinland on Google Maps.

This pristine rendering of one of the most beloved works in American cinema may be the biggest selling point of this collector's edition, but it isn't the only new element in the package. Out of the 16 (!) hours of bonus material, four are brand new to this release: "Victor Fleming: Master Craftsman," a half-hour featurette about the "Oz" director; "Celebrating Hollywood's Biggest Little Stars," which commemorates the Munchkins' receipt of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007; "The Dreamer of Oz," a 1990 TV movie that stars John Ritter as "Oz" author L. Frank Baum; a pair of "Oz"-themed silent films from 1914; and -- in the most welcome of these additions -- a sing-along track that posts the lyrics to all of the musical's songs onscreen, thereby ensuring that viewers can "ding" and "dong" about the witch being dead while they watch the movie.

Other accoutrements that raise this box set to "ultimate collector's" status? A lovely 52-page coffee table book, a 70th anniversary "Wizard of Oz" watch (in case, you know, the Cowardly Lion in your life asks what time it is) and a clever reproduction of the 1939 campaign book in which MGM outlines all the possibilities for marketing and promoting the movie. ("A Picture that is truly a triumph for Exploitation!" the book's cover loudly promises.) As for a complimentary brain, heart and some nerve, well, you'll just have to wait for the inevitable 75th anniversary DVD release.

Now, readers with a basic understanding of math may look at the previously mentioned ratio of new extras (four hours) to overall bonus material (16 hours) and ask the obvious follow-up question: Does this mean that three-fourths of the special features are actually just rehashed stuff? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Anyone who already owns a copy of the special editions of "Oz" from 2005 will already have checked out the making-of documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury (which has appeared, by my count, on three DVD iterations of "Oz"), the outtakes, the commentary track by "Wizard" expert John Fricke and all the other featurettes and nuggets that have again landed on this release.

That said, if you don't already own "The Wizard of Oz" -- and especially if you have a high-def television and a Blu-ray player -- you won't regret owning this set. The 2005 special features, while redundant for anyone who already has that DVD, will certainly be considered comprehensive and entertaining by those who haven't seen them. And really, it's difficult to find many box sets that have been put together with as much obvious care and love as this one has.

In other words, when the great and powerful Oz has spoken in Dolby digital audio on a remastered Blu-ray disc, it's tough not to listen.

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