The Wizard of Oz 4K Ultra HD Review: Somewhere Over the HDR Rainbow

The classic arrives on 4K for the first time
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Dorothy and the gang are back in a sparkling new 80th anniversary edition of the classic film, released in 4K Ultra HD for the first time. The legendary tale is just as great as you remember it, and now looks better than ever thanks to a totally spotless, newly restored 8K 16-bit scan of the original Technicolor camera negative. Ensuring the best possible home presentation, the 4K disc includes Dolby Vision HDR, as well as HDR10+ to optimize brightness levels and contrast for each scene. Although the original soundtrack was mono, it has been enhanced to DTS-HD MA 5.1 on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs, providing a bit greater immersion.

The 4K picture presentation is so superior that it reveals some flaws in the source material, primarily scenes and parts of frames shot out of focus, as well as a lack of fine detail in the background of certain scenes due to the limited technology of the film’s era. For example, when Dorothy first meets the hundreds of munchkins, faces in the back appear to be little more than featureless blobs instead of detailed heads. Conversely, other features are brought into new focus, such as burlap fabric texture all over Scarecrow’s face that I never noticed before. Overall, the picture quality appears markedly smoother than Blu-ray, making for a more pleasant viewing experience. As for HDR color performance, the iconic shift from black and white to color is more dramatic than ever, although the archivists largely resisted bumping up color saturation in favor of retaining the familiar, slightly faded color spectrum.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is extremely center-channel heavy, further evidence that the studio wisely resisted tampering with the source material. Dialogue is almost entirely front and center, with only music and effects spreading out a bit to the other channels. As with the picture, the sound has been burnished to perfection, with no remaining evidence of any defects.

Although all of the bonus features have been present on previous Oz releases, they are incredibly extensive, offering viewers many hours of additional entertainment.  One feature appears only on the 4K disc: an hour-long 1990 CBS TV special about the making of the film hosted by Angela Lansbury. The special is a treasure trove of interview footage with cast and crew, as well as Judy Garland’s daughters.

The rest of the features appear on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs, including an Oz storybook also featuring Lansbury, another hour-long show about the making of the film, as well as profiles of all of the film’s principal players, sing-along tracks, the original mono soundtrack, an isolated music and effects track, an audio jukebox, and stills galleries. Other standout features include deleted scenes, a look at the making of the twister special effects, and even a couple of radio broadcasts featuring the original cast.

But wait, there’s more! For the true Oz fanatics, the included digital copy of the film (accessible via Movies Anywhere) also includes two hour-long Oz silent films written and directed by the original creator of Oz, L. Frank Baum. They’re pretty rough going for pure entertainment, but still fascinating to see the whimsical Oz flights of fancy Baum was committing to film decades before this classic was created.

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