BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
The Wizard of Oz in high definition: That's a horse of a different color!
MGM's 1939 Technicolor classic, with dozens of network television airings beginning in 1956, has already been marketed at least 17 times since 1980 in home video formats including Beta, VHS, RCA SelectaVision videodisc, LaserDisc and DVD.
Now, for the film's 70th anniversary, comes Oz on Blu-ray, the high-def format with more than twice the resolution of standard DVD.
The high-def Oz transfer will be digitally screened -- just once -- Wednesday night in about 440 theaters nationwide, including eight in South Florida. In addition to the feature, moviegoers will see outtakes, a documentary and vintage cast interviews.
George Feltenstein, Warner Home Video's senior vice president for theatrical catalog marketing, calls the new Oz ``an utter revelation.''
``There's mosaic tile under the magic crystal ball, the carvings in the witch's coven. Toto has fur that's discernable,'' he says. ``It seems like 3D, yet it still retains that MGM magic.''
Feltenstein -- the man behind the curtain responsible for all classic MGM home video and soundtrack releases since the late '80s -- isn't overstating the increased quality. A preview disc loaned to The Miami Herald reveals sharp differences from the video master used for Oz's last major home video release in 2005, as well as high-def clips from the film inserted in the 2007 Blu-ray release of the MGM documentary, That's Entertainment!
Back in 2005, Warner spent ``an obscene amount of money'' in restoring the film, Feltenstein says. ``We're not allowed to say, but over a million dollars,'' he added. Seventy years ago, MGM spent $2.77 million to make the entire movie -- and it was $1 million over budget.
To restore Oz in 2005, Warner used a patented process called Ultra-Resolution, in which the three-strip Technicolor negative was joined by computer, creating a sharpness not even seen in 1939. A high-def transfer was made, but Warner held off on releasing it to consumers.
Four years later, Feltenstein decided that the '05 transfer wasn't good enough for a Blu-ray anniversary release. The negatives were cleaned again and computer-scanned at a higher resolution than what was possible four years ago.
Then, someone at Warner found the original print used by the studio for duplication purposes, Feltenstein says, ``exactly as approved by [Oz producer] Mervyn LeRoy and [director] Victor Fleming and everyone at MGM. A perfect 1939 color reference.''
The 2009 high-def release was then color-adjusted to match the newly found 1939 print, Feltenstein says.
Despite the technological magic behind the new Blu-ray, Feltenstein reverentially reminds us of the main reason why Oz remains popular going into its eighth decade: Judy Garland, who'll forever be tied to the film and it's Oscar-winning Best Song, Over the Rainbow.
The high-def transfer enhances Garland's presence, Feltenstein says.
``I was able to become more enthralled by, and interested in, her performance,'' he says. ``And I've seen this movie 400 times.''
Oz historian John Fricke, who wrote and assembled a 52-page coffee-table book included in the box set, Behind the Curtain, says three components make the film work so well.
``You've got MGM, which was the only studio that would have taken the time and money to make The Wizard of Oz. You've got [Oz author L.] Frank Baum, who created all those characters and locations. And you've got Judy Garland, the great pop entertainment communicator of all time,'' says Fricke, who last week emceed the 28th annual Wizard of Oz Festival in Chesterton, Ind.
``The important word there is `entertainer,' '' Fricke says. ``MGM, Baum and Garland were all in the business of entertaining, and they did it better than anybody else.''
Fricke, who provides commentary on the new Blu-ray disc, also has just co-written (with Jonathan Shirshekan) The Wizard of Oz: An Illustrated Companion to the Timeless Movie Classic, which is available exclusively at Barnes & Noble.
Warner, which now controls the pre-1986 MGM film library, will release two other studio classics on Blu-ray in November: Fleming's other 1939 masterpiece, Gone with the Wind; and Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).
The ‘Oz’ display at Barnes & Noble in Aventura. Photo by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald Staff
IF YOU GO
What: Screening of restored, high-definition print of ``The Wizard of Oz''
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: South Beach Stadium 18; AMC Sunset Place 24 in South Miami; AMC Aventura Mall 24; Dolphin 19 Cinemas and Dolphin Cinebistro in West Miami-Dade; Movies @ The Falls 12 in South Miami-Dade; Cypress Creek Station 16; and Magnolia Place 16 in Coral Springs
Cost: $10 for adults; $7 for children
Info: Visit www.ncm.com/Fathom and click on ``The Wizard of Oz'' under upcoming events
The Blue-ray and DVD: The new print will be released Sept. 29 on DVD ($25 standard set; $70 collector's set) and Blu-ray ($85 collector's set)
Click all photos to enlarge.