Demo Scenes: The Wizard of Oz
(Chapter 13, 1:08:44–1:12:42)
I keep making the claim in my reviews and elsewhere on Cineluxe that older movies shot on 35mm or larger film stock are the ones that stand to benefit most from the latest Ultra HD and HDR home video standards. And I’ve yet to see a better example of this than the new 4K/HDR release of The Wizard of Oz.
Granted, this 80-year-old classic isn’t perfectly consistent from beginning to end in its visual presentation. It’s a little soft in places and a little too grainy in others. But the new restoration simply reveals a level of depth and detail in the image that most people have never seen.
Check out the pivotal scene in which Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion meet the Wizard for the first time in his gloomy and imposing throne room. If you go back to the Blu-ray release (and indeed, many previous home video
efforts), the long hallway leading to this meeting looks obviously fake, hilariously flat, undeniably a matte painting. But given more dynamic range to work with, this new transfer doesn’t need to boost the brightness of the entire scene to illuminate our heroes. As such, the backgrounds have a much more natural depth and more convincing shadows, so that long hallway actually seems to recede into the distance.
Fast-forward to the face-to-face meeting, specifically when the Wizard says, “I am Oz, the great and powerful! Who are you?” In the very best Blu-ray release, Dorothy’s dress when those lines are uttered is an indistinctly textured wash
of blue, not the gingham we all know her to be wearing. In the 4K/HDR release, the gingham is restored, and undeniably so. That’s not all, though. In previous home releases, the Tin Man simply lacks a little luster, despite the polish he just received a few scenes back. In the 4K/HDR, he positively glistens, as he should.
But it’s not merely little details such as this that make the new restoration work. This scene overall benefits from more nuanced dynamic range. Shadows aren’t a mass of crushed blacks; they contain detail and depth. Highlights don’t have to be overblown to be seen. The shift in brightness of the background as the Wizard’s showy flames rise from his throne are subtler, and indeed more effective for it. Overall, the atmosphere of the entire throne room and the occupants within simply seem more convincing. Less a stage and more of a genuine space.
The effect overall isn’t merely about eye candy. It’s not about more pixels or more colors or deeper shadows or what have you. It’s about the subliminal effects of all those little visual improvements, which combine to draw you deeper into the illusion of this magical film, in a way we’ve never quite been able to achieve at home before now.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.