DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Essential Classics: Family Films

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer

    Feb 20, 2001
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    Livonia, MI USA
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    Kenneth McAlinden
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    Essential Classics: Family Films
    The Wizard of Oz (1939)/The Goonies (1985)/Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory(1971)

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 1939-1971

    Rated: Unrated-PG

    Film Length: Various

    Aspect Ratio: Various

    Subtitles: Various

    Release Date: April 24, 2007

    With "The Essential Classics" collections, Warner Home Video are re-packaging previously released DVD titles from their classic film library into attractively priced "instant collection" box sets. The discs in the box sets are identical to the most recent masterings of the titles at the time of release, but they do not include any discs that were devoted exclusively to extras.

    Since the discs in "The Essential Classics" collections have all been previously released, I will be departing from my usual format of comprehensive reviews, and focusing instead on highlighting the contents of the discs in a more general sense.

    The Films

    The Wizard of Oz (1939 - MGM - 103 minutes)

    Directed By: Victor Fleming

    Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton

    Included here is the first disc of "The Wizard of Oz Three Disc Collector's Edition" which was released on October 25, 2005. This was also the first disc of a 2-disc SE released at the same time. Extras on this disc include: a very detailed audio commentary by Judy Garland expert John Fricke with interview clips from the film's cast and crew; "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook" - a 10-1/2 minute featurette with Angela Lansbury reading excerpts from Baum's source books over a montage of illustrations, some of which are partially animated; "We Haven't Really Met Yet Properly" - a collection of featurettes on the "supporting cast" (every major player except Garland, including Toto) narrated by Angela Lansbury that runs just over 21 minutes if the "Play All" option is chosen; and, finally, an isolated music and effects audio track.

    The film has both English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 1.0 audio as well as a a French DD 1.0 dub. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish. For some reason, the English 1.0 track with the film's original mono mix is not accessible from the "Languages" menu, but can be accessed either via cycling through the audio tracks with your DVD remote or via the "Special Features" menu where it is listed as "Original Mono Track".

    For a detailed assessment of the audio and Ultra-Resolution video transfer, check out Herb Kane's forum review of the Three-Disc Collector's edition at this link.

    The Goonies (1985 - Warner Brothers - 114 minutes)

    Directed By: Richard Donner

    Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, , John Matuszak

    This is the same single-disc DVD release of "The Goonies" that was released on August 21, 2001. The audio-video transfer of the film still holds up well, with excellent color and sharpness. The film itself has a slightly dated 80s look to it with shadow detail and grain structure not quite at the level of most modern productions, but it looks as good or better than I remember it since its theatrical release when I was in high school. The 5.1 remix is also impressive, comparing favorably to some modern tracks, and purists will be happy to note that the film's original soundtrack is represented by a Dolby Digital 2.0 Pro-Logic track. A French stereo and a Spanish mono dub are also included as well as available English, French, and Spanish Subtitles.

    The extras on this disc are a lot of fun for fans of the movie, especially the screen-specific audio commentary which reunites Richard Donner with Sean Astin (he leaves before it is over), Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, and Ke Huy Quan (who now goes by "Jonathan Ke Quan"). They all sit together for the length of the track, and there are even 13 video clips interspersed throughout the commentary where you can see the participants interacting. The comments are anecdotal in nature, so while this does not give you a scholarly "film school in a box" overview of the production, it does complement the nostalgic appeal of the film which, in my mind at least, is not so much an "Essential Classic" as a fun guilty pleasure.

    The disc also comes with several vintage extras including seven minutes of deleted scenes, a seven minute "making of" featurette that is slightly fluffy and promotional in nature but has interesting behind the scenes footage along with interviews with Donner and producer Steven Spielberg, the Cyndi Lauper music video for "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" (featuring the immortal Captain Lou Albano), a fairly useless static menu list of the cast and filmmakers, and the film's theatrical trailer.

    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971 - Warner Brothers - 100 minutes)

    Directed By: Mel Stuart

    Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodd Deney, Paris Themmen

    This disc is the same 16:9 enhanced widescreen special edition of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" that was released on November 13, 2001 after public outcry over the initial 4:3-only special edition released on August 28th, 2001. The video transfer of this edition is a substantial improvement over the original DVD release of the film from 1997. It has excellent detail, natural film grain (noticeably increasing during some of the exteriors and optical effects shots), solid color and contrast, and very little visible damage to the film element. I could not imagine a more natural, film-like presentation on standard-def DVD, although colors are perhaps tilted a bit towards the red-end of the spectrum resulting in some rosy fleshtones. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also demonstrates some subtle improvements over the earlier version, although it does occasionally sound a bit harsh, particularly during loud passages. Additional audio tracks include French, Spanish, and Portuguese mono dubs with available subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

    The SE content on this edition is especially impressive, even down to the "Wonka-vator" themed menu transitions. The extras do a nice job of balancing content of interest to kids, nostalgic adults, and film fans curious about how it was made. My favorite extra is the screen specific audio commentary which reunites the juvenile cast of the film 30 years after it was made. Participants are Peter Ostrum (Charlie) , Denise Nickerson (Violet), Michael Bollner (Augustus), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca), and Paris Themmen (Mike). Much like the "Goonies" track, the nostalgia factor is off the charts, with lots of fun anecdotes, and only a little "nuts and bolts" filmmaking informations.

    The newly-produced 30 minute featurette "Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" complements and rarely overlaps the commentary even though it includes interviews with all of the participating actors in addition to Mel Stuart, Gene Wilder, David Wolper (Producer), David Seltzer (un-credited screenwriter), and oompa-loompa Rusty Goffe. The talking head interview footage is intercut with film clips and some rough, but interesting, on-set footage. Topics range widely, but include lots of information about how the project came together and some interesting anecdotes from Wilder about his approach to the character. It is a tightly packed 30 minutes, but I would have liked it to be even longer, which is as much a compliment as a complaint, I suppose.

    The extras are rounded out by a four minute vintage featurette focusing on art director Harper Goff. It is in rough shape with severe grain and faded color, but there is some nice production footage interspersed with the Goff interview footage. Also included is a gallery of eighteen production stills, a sing-along feature for four songs from the film, a list of the cast and crew with links to character details that read like the back of a baseball card, and the film's theatrical trailer presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with strangely varying audio levels.


    The discs come in a tri-fold digipack with artwork on all sides, including behind the clear plastic disc trays, which is housed inside an attractive foil-highlighted case. The discs themselves have exactly the same art silkscreened on them as they did in their previous releases. Since the Oz disc was authored to be part of both a two and three disc special edition, its menus have no references to extra content on bonus discs, avoiding some minor confusion created by other multi-disc titles abridged in "Essential Classic" compilations.


    This package represents an attractive and economical way of picking up the latest and greatest DVD presentations of these three popular family films if you don't mind foregoing the extras that came on the bonus discs for "The Wizard of Oz". With a manufacturer suggested retail price of under US$31, it is hard to argue about the value of this set if you do not already own these films on DVD.


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