If Hollywood's vast abundance of remakes, spinoffs and sequels weren't enough to kill your appetite for spending money on "new" entertainment, it seems like almost every one of these releases finds its way onto home video in multiple forms. Sometimes the studios issue different iterations of a film all at the same time, in a thankful moment of honesty that at least allows consumers the option of which version they want. More often, though, the studios will re-release, expand and double-dip their top earners time and time again in order to wring out a few more dollars from the less dull entries in their back catalogue. And especially now, during the still-early days of Blu-ray, there's even more new and different editions being released in stores, some of which are honest-to-Jah improvements on the presentation and packaging, while others are merely the next generation of mediocrity.
As such, we're launching the first installment of "Making The (Up) Grade," a comparison of some of the more high-profile (or maybe just personally-preferred) Blu-ray releases. And with Warner Brothers' deluxe reissue of The Wizard of Oz arriving in stores this week, it seemed like a good place to start to let readers (and eventually, consumers) determine with a little more specificity what you will be buying (or not buying) if you trade in an older edition for a newer one. To wit:
What's Already Available: Warner Home Video released a standard-definition deluxe, three-disc Collector's Edition in October of 2005. In addition to remastered picture and sound, the set included five new documentaries, 13 hours of bonus material, a copy of the Premiere Invitation, a campaign book poster page, 10 Kodachrome color stills, and a replica Premiere ticket. A two-disc version was also released at the same time which omitted several of the featurettes and documentaries, as well as the replica print materials and props.
What's In The New Set: The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition is also three discs, but the list of content was expanded: In addition to all of the previous materials provided in earlier releases, there is a new documentary about director Victor Fleming, a TV-movie special entitled The Dreamer of Oz, and a featurette about the 2007 Walk of Fame salute to the Munchkins. Additionally, the third disc features a six-hour documentary about MGM Studios entitled When the Lion Roars, adding up to a grand total of some 16 hours of content. And the set boasts new non-movie extras including a limited-edition 70th anniversary watch ("with genuine crystals," according to the packaging), a reproduction of the original 1939 campaign book, a 52-page hardbound commemorative book, and a replica of the original movie budget.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: Blu-ray has been remarkably inconsistent thus far, even with some of the biggest titles, but in high definition, The Wizard of Oz looks better than it ever did in theaters, and ever will. Truth be told, the 2005 edition did most of the heavy lifting in restoring the film to its original Technicolor luster – thoroughly documented in the featurette Prettier Than Ever – but there are even more details on Blu-ray than there were on DVD, making this not only a superior release, but a reference disc for anyone eager to show off their home theater's visual capabilities. While the clarity is so intense that many of the make-up lines and less convincing effects are more readily visible, this seems actually less a shortcoming than a strength since the film's overall impact is so strong that it only seems to enhance the fact that we willingly – and repeatedly – immerse ourselves in its fantastical world. Other than a sing-along feature, however, the audio has gone untouched from the 5.1 audio mix created for the '05 edition.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Notwithstanding the trinkets that come in its shiny packaging, the new extras enhance but don't serviceably improve upon the already-massive wealth of extra content. The documentaries in particular are all fascinating, but an additional one about director Fleming, or a teleplay about L. Frank Baum fail to significantly change the overall quality and context of the film's historical importance. That said, the sheer amount of content sandwiched onto the first two discs is a stunning testament to how little space is being explored or exploited by many Blu-ray producers, and the third disc, although less immediately relevant to the film and more its distribution studio, makes for a fascinating slice of Hollywood history.
What's The Final Grade:B+. The packaging and physical extras are all top-notch (that watch is kind of baller, although maybe not for a 33-year-old male), and the presentation is incredible. But Warner Brothers did such an amazing job in 2005 building a set that did justice to the film's achievement, legacy, and lineage that this one can't help but feel slight by comparison. That said, the movie looks so damn good that it feels like a mandatory purchase for anyone with a Blu-ray player, but especially if you don't have it already, you'll be grateful that you took anther trip down the yellow brick road.