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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Wizard Of Oz - Three-Disc Collector's Edition (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

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#1 of 401 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 18 2005 - 05:53 PM

The Wizard Of Oz
Three-Disc Collector's Edition

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1939
Rated: G
Film Length: 103 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Standard
Audio: DD 5.1/Mono
Color/B&W: Color & Sepia Tone
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $39.92
Package: 5 panel gatefold/Digipak in a cardboard slipcover case

The Feature:
Just like last year's release of Gone With The Wind and the recently released Ben-Hur, Warner Brothers is poised to release one of their most beloved and cherished catalogue possessions in a Three-Disc Collector's Edition, the 1939 hit classic, The Wizard Of Oz. The film was voted by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the The Best Family Film. The film was produced in 1939 - arguably, the year to see some of the best films ever produced, come out of Hollywood. On October 25th, two versions of the film will be released – a Two-Disc Special Edition and a Three-Disc Collector’s Edition. For the very first time, these versions of The Wizard Of Oz will boast a stunning new digital transfer of the original film, using Warner’s "Ultra-Resolution" technology, plus a newly remastered soundtrack.

The Wizard Of Oz Three-Disc Collector’s Edition includes an additional disc of special content, featuring a new documentary about Oz author L. Frank Baum and a newly restored transfer of the 1925 feature-length silent version of The Wizard Of Oz starring Oliver Hardy and Larry Semon with a fresh score by Robert Israel. Disc three is also highlighted by several additional rare Oz film features and shorts, originally produced between 1910 and 1933. In addition to the bonus disc, the Collector’s Edition DVD will include reproductions of the original eight-page Grauman's Chinese Theatre Oz souvenir program from August 15, 1939, the invitation to that premiere; the sixteen-page Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio News magazine from August 14, 1939, celebrating The Wizard Of Oz; nine beautifully restored natural color Kodachrome portraits and publicity photos from the film. The Wizard of Oz Two-Disc Special Edition will be available for $26.99 list and the Three-Disc Collector’s Edition will list for $39.92.

For veteran director Victor Fleming, who began making movies during the black-and-white, silent era, 1939 represented the pinnacle of his career. Not only did Fleming's Gone with the Wind claim the Best Picture Oscar, but his other big feature, The Wizard Of Oz, took its first steps towards becoming one of American cinema's best-known and most beloved motion pictures. (It's worth noting that Fleming had help from several other directors on Gone with the Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, but, in the end, he was given sole credit for both.) Indeed, The Wizard Of Oz is one of only a handful of films that nearly everyone is familiar with.

Throughout the years, there have been dozens of live-action films, stage plays, animated features, and TV programs based on L. Frank Baum's classic Oz stories. To one degree or another, almost all have been influenced by Fleming's telling of the tale. Although the 1939 version was not the first filmed adaptation of the book it is without a doubt the definitive one. When anyone thinks of The Wizard Of Oz, they see Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley, and hear "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."
Probably the most interesting aspect of The Wizard Of Oz comes from interpreting what really happens during the bulk of the film.

The story opens by introducing us to Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland), a young girl in Kansas who finds her wanderlust stirred by dreams of going "somewhere over the rainbow." When a tornado strikes the farm where she lives with her aunt and uncle, she is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up, she finds herself in the magical land of Oz, where she journeys in the company of a Scarecrow (played by Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (played by Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (played by Bert Lahr) to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West (played by Margaret Hamilton) and find the all-powerful Wizard (played by Frank Morgan), who has the power to send her home. But is this a real trip, or is it all a dream? Whichever way you lean, it doesn't detract from the movie's boundless capacity to entertain.

It was not an easy film to make. Quite the contrary. Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man, suffered severe metallic poisoning from his make-up and had to be replaced by Jack Haley. Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, sustained first degree burns when a fire effect went wrong. Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion, experienced severe discomfort from his costume and could only sip liquid food through a straw. The adolescent Garland at 16 was far too buxom to play Dorothy (who was meant to be around 12) and wore a tightly binding garment under her dress to flatten her bust. Some of the small people who played the Munchkins turned out to be lecherous drunks and ran amok when not in front of the camera. The director, Richard Thorpe, was fired after two weeks shooting and his footage scrapped. His replacement, George Cukor, lasted only a week. Victor Fleming shot the bulk of the film, but King Vidor (uncredited) filmed the Kansas sequences, including the song "Over the Rainbow", which was deemed by studio executives as too gloomy for children, and nearly cut from the finished print.

Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s timeless children’s tale, The Wizard Of Oz opened at Loew’s Capitol Theatre in New York on August 17, 1939. The film was produced by Mervyn LeRoy, and scored by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. The Wizard of Oz received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and captured two Oscars® – Best Song ("Over the Rainbow") and Best Original Score -- plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Judy Garland.

The Wizard Of Oz was an overwhelming popular and critical success upon its initial release and repeated its ability to captivate audiences when M-G-M reissued the film in 1949 and 1955. The film made a new kind of history with its network television premiere in 1956 on CBS. Nearly 45 million people tuned in for this initial telecast, marking the beginning of a tradition. Ever since, The Wizard Of Oz has been shown virtually annually on network (and then cable) television; its magical story and heartfelt performances have enabled it to grow from a perennial classic to its current status as a treasured icon of popular culture.

The Feature: 5/5

The Wizard Of Oz, is the latest entry in Warner’s proprietary usage of the Ultra Resolution process. If you’re familiar with classic Technicolor releases of Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc SE), The Adventures of Robin Hood, Meet Me in St. Louis, Gone with the Wind (Four-Disc SE), Easter Parade and The Band Wagon, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Another aspect of The Wizard Of Oz that immediately arrests the attention is the film's use of black-and-white (actually brown-and-white known as sepia tone) which clashes starkly with the vivid hues of Technicolor. All of the scenes that transpire in our mundane world are presented in the drabbest manner possible, but, when the setting shifts to Oz, the browns are replaced by brilliant reds, blues, oranges, and yellows. It takes a rare movie to make a viewer even think of it as "black and white" or "color," but, because The Wizard Of Oz puts meaning into appearance, the nature of the visual composition become crucial.

That said, the colors on the new Collector’s Edition are brighter, slightly more vivid and vibrant. Projected via DLP on a 92” screen, saturation looks better. Without question, there is a greater presence of yellow. The “yellow brick road” no longer looks like the “golden brick road”. In many of the scenes, the previous version’s colors looked slightly tired and even dull. The Collector’s Edition seems to have injected them with new life. Blacks were truly deep and flesh tones are more accurate looking.

Where this new transfer shines is in the level of depth, texture and dimensionality. Check out the screen cap of the Cowardly Lion below. The costume looks tired and flat. The new version is clearly layered with a greater sense of dimensionality. And that very quality is the highlight of the new edition, particularly when projected on a fairly large screen.

That’s not to say this new version is perfect. I was slightly disappointed with the level of image detail. We’ve to come to expect a greater level of improved detail with the UR process. In this case, it exists, but you have to look hard to find it. To keep things in perspective, perhaps we shouldn’t find fault with this new release, but up the praise for the previous version which was excellent to begin with.

You’ll notice slightly more grain in the newer version – not necessarily a bad thing and perhaps accounts for the greater level of detail. Also noticeable is the improved level of contrast as the first version seemed slightly too bright. The CE seems slightly warmer.

The previous version screencaps are on top while the new Collector’s Edition (Ultra Resolution) are on the bottom.

It is the opinion of this reviewer that the new CE version is improved however, given the nature of the already fine previously released version, your display equipment will be key in determining any substantial improvement. In short, you’ll find improvements with color, texture, contrast and slightly better detail.

Video: 4.5/5

Not only does the new CE come with the previous 5.1 DD track but now includes the original monaural track as well. Oddly, this has to be accessed by entering the special features menu on disc one, but either way, it’s a welcome addition.

Since my previous experiences with the disc were with the 5.1 track, I decided to utilize the new monaural track which did not disappoint. It seems as though Warner did an admirable job at going back and cleaning things up, leaving the fidelity intact. The track is clean and virtually free of any hiss or other distracting noises.

The dialogue was always bold and intelligible and never became fatiguing or thin. Given the limitations of the period (65+ years old), there is as much heft to the track as we might imagine. Judy sounds wonderful as usual and the track delivers a near perfect monaural rendering. No doubt, purists will want to utilize the newly added original track, however, the slightly more filling and enveloping 5.1 track is a welcomed inclusion.

Audio: 4.5/5

Special Features:
This package is absolutely jam packed with special features. Not only are all three discs loaded, but the package is filled with souvenir memorabilia. The set looks like this:

Disc One:
[*] First up is a Commentary With John Fricke which is interspersed with various archival clips from various cast and crewmembers including Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren. The track is introduced by Sydney Pollack. If you’re familiar with Fricke’s previous Garland commentaries, you’ll know that there is probably no one on earth more qualified to comment on Judy Garland and her career. A number of things are discussed including the location shoot as well as the various casting choices who were in line for various roles. You’ll even learn a great deal about Toto. A superb track.
[*] The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Storybook is read by Angela Lansbury accompanied by various illustrations. Duration: 10:27 minutes.
[*] In Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz, Ned Price and Rob Hummell appear from Warner Brothers as they discuss the restoration process from start to finish, including discussion on the elements that were used as well as the Ultra-Resolution 4K process that was used for the CE of Oz. Duration: 10:27 minutes.
[*] We Haven’t Really Met Properly… is a series of brief biographies narrated by Angela Lansbury. Duration: 21:19 minutes.
[*] An isolated Music And Effects Track is also included – a great inclusion for the film/music/effects fans of Oz.
[*] And finally, the Original Mono Track is included in this section which I comment on in the audio section.

Disc Two:
[*] The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: The Making of a Classic is the terrific documentary dedicated to the making-of the film. Directed by Angela Lansbury, you’ll see archival clips of the cast-members who discuss their experiences working on the film. You’ll also see deleted scenes and hear the reasons they were edited. Duration: 50:52 minutes.
[*] Memories Of Oz is a TCM production where various OZ fans, cast-member relatives and aficionados appear and offer their opinions as to why the film has achieved the level of status it has. Duration: 27:36 minutes.
[*] The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz is another feature narrated by Sydney Pollack – discussed here is a brief history of the MGM studio and the production of the film. Duration: 29:44 minutes.
[*] Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz John Fricke and Drew Casper make appearances here as the discuss the airing of the film on network television and the impact it would make for years to come. Duration: 25:04 minutes.
[*] Harold Arlen’s Home Movies is a compilation of the composer’s own home movies. Duration: 4:39 minutes.
[*] Outtakes and Deleted Scenes contains 5 deleted scenes including the infamous Bolger dance sequence shown in it’s entirety. Duration Total: 14:19 minutes.
[*] It’s a Twister, It’s a Twister: The Tornado Test includes actual raw footage of twisters, footage that was used for the Kansas sequence. Duration: 8:16 minutes.
[*] Off To See The Wizard includes 4 cartoon segments that were shown on ABC in 1967, animated by Chuck Jones. Duration: 3:56 minutes.
[*] From The Vault includes three segments; Electrical Power (10:29), Excerpts of ’39 Academy Award presentations which features Mickey Rooney presenting Judy with hers (2:14) and a group of Texas contest winners who wind up meeting the cast of Oz during a tour of the studio lot (1:25).
[*] The Audio Vault consists of the following audio clips:

- Jukebox – contains 18 various audio clips spread out over three pages consisting of various rehearsals, sequence recordings, voice tests and underscores. Duration: 4:46 hours.

- Leo Is On The Air Radio Promo is just that; a promotion of the “MGM miracle extravaganza”. Duration: 12:13 minutes.

- Good News of 1939 Radio Show is an installment of the ’39 show featuring the castmembers from the film. The show is hosted by Robert Young and sponsored by Maxwell House. Duration: 60:53 minutes.

- 12/25/1950 Lux Radio Theater Radio Broadcast features Judy Garland in the hour long episode. Compared to many of the previous WB Lux Broadcast inclusions on other sets, the audio on this version is crystal clear. Duration: 60:46 minutes.
[*] Stills Galleries contains dozen of various photographs all of which are contained in eighteen various sub-folders.
[*] And finally, six Theatrical Trailers have been included here on the 2nd disc. Duration: 11:20 minutes.

Disc Three:
The third and final disc is dedicated to Oz Creator, L. Frank Baum, who published his first Oz book in 1900. Fans of silent film, are going to spend a great deal of time with this disc.
[*] L. Frank Baum: The Man Behind The Curtain is an in depth documentary on the writer. The feature touches upon the hopeless-romantic and his numerous dreams. It’s interesting to hear the various childhood experiences that would eventually go on to influence Oz. Duration: 27:43 minutes.
[*] A copy of the The Wizard Of Oz (1910), a print from the George Eastman House is also included here. Aside from the amateurish looking sets and backdrops, this print looks terrific considering its vintage etc. Duration: 13:17 minutes.
[*] The Magic Cloak Of Oz (1914) appears, but unfortunately hasn’t faired quite as well in terms of its presentation. An interesting inclusion, however. Duration: 38:26 minutes.
[*] His Majesty, The Scarecrow Of Oz is another silent production written and directed by Baum. The print is fairly respectable looking, considering. Duration: 59:04 minutes.
[*] The Wizard Of Oz (1925) is a restored silent version featuring Oliver hardy and Larry Semon, with a new fully orchestrated score by Robert Israel. This is in reasonably decent shape showing marks and scratches as we would reasonably expect from a film of this age. Duration: 71:48 minutes.
[*] The Wizard Of Oz (1933) is an interesting Technicolor animated short. Although the colors look mostly good, the print is in pretty rough shape and is introduced with a brief history. Duration: 8:12 minutes.

Memorabilia and Collectables -
A number of reproduction collectables have been included here such as:
[*] The Wizard of Oz Comes to Life - Eight-page Grauman's Chinese Theater Souvenir Premiere Program from August 15, 1939.
[*] Studio's Invitation to The Grauman's Premiere and the envelope that included tickets to the original Opening Night – with a newly designed commemorative ticket.
[*] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio News is a sixteen-page edition of the studio’s internal "house organ" newspaper, celebrating the release of The Wizard of Oz for the week of August 14, 1939
[*] Photoplay Studies - Rare secondary-education study guide to the film -- Volume V, Number 12 (circa August 1939) -- completely devoted to The Wizard of Oz, with articles with articles revealing surprising insights from its producer, director, cameraman and scenarists.
[*] Deluxe Collectors' Portfolio includes reproductions of original 1939 Kodachrome publicity stills, including nine portraits and onset photographs.

WOW…!! Very rarely will you find me recommending a version based solely on special features, but in this case I might be so inclined. I might go so far as to say that if this package didn’t include the feature film itself, I’d probably offer the same recommendation. An absolute treasure trove for Oz aficionados.

Special Features: 5+/5

**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

Final Thoughts:
I'm not really sure what I could say about the film, that hasn't already been said over the past 65 years. The film has more than proven the test of time and continues to be a fan favorite for children as well as adults who've grown up watching it.

In terms of the presentation, while you may require a higher-end display device to discern any differences from the near perfect previous release, the CE is an improvement. If you're on the fence, the special features alone here should be enough to tip the scales. All things being equal (or close), rarely will you find me recommending a disc based on special features alone. This just might be the exception. Any fan of this film will need to find hours, upon hours to go through what has been included here. Just like Gone With The Wind was last year's single release of the year, there should be no question that this year's Collector's Edition release of The Wizard Of Oz now holds that spot.

Overall Rating: 5/5 (not an average)

Highly Recommended...!!!

Release Date: October 25th, 2005

My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 401 OFFLINE   Christian L.

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Posted October 18 2005 - 06:25 PM

Based solely on those screencaps, the picture quite clearly resembles the qualities of the new Ben-Hur disc.

#3 of 401 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted October 18 2005 - 06:30 PM

Posted Image

#4 of 401 OFFLINE   Christian L.

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Posted October 18 2005 - 06:34 PM

Roger Rollins: I´m referring to the warmer colors (yellow/orange tint), sharpness and picture details.

#5 of 401 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted October 18 2005 - 06:40 PM

I misunderstood your inference. Please accept my apologies, Christian.

Posted Image

#6 of 401 OFFLINE   Christian L.

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Posted October 18 2005 - 06:47 PM

Anytime. No apologies needed. Posted Image

#7 of 401 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted October 18 2005 - 09:34 PM

Herb, Outstanding review! Thank you so much for the screen caps. I have to tell you, it does become very difficult at times to decipher which of the two transfers is the better one, though it absolutely looks like this new version has the edge. The picture looks more vibrant with warmer colors. I would expect this is going to be the same transfer the studio will use for their HD/Blu-Ray release. It's too bad we'll be purchasing this DVD again in a few short years -- but it will be a purchase well worth its cost. Thanks for the time you put into this review, Herb.


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#8 of 401 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 18 2005 - 09:45 PM

Herb, Great review as always, I can't wait until I get my hands on this wonderful dvd boxset. Crawdaddy

#9 of 401 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted October 18 2005 - 10:33 PM

The 4th screencap: Is her dress meant to be blue - as it is in the old transfer - or lilac, as it is in the new Ultra-res transfer? her dress has always been blue in my eyes. Speaking purely from a subjective, aesthetic perspective, I prefer the colour hues in the older transfer. The green of the Witch's face is an appropriately 'harder' green in the old transfer and has a stronger impact on me, but the new transfer yields a lighter, 'friendlier' green. This new transfer is stunning, though.

#10 of 401 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted October 19 2005 - 12:04 AM

Great review, and I'll be picking this up next Tuesday. I'm just wondering whether to hold on to my previous DVD or not. It appears that the commentary track is a new one. This is great, but I wish they had included Fricke's commentary from the LD boxset, since it's the best commentary track that I've ever heard. Is the full audio vault from the previous release included? According to your review, it's only 4 radio pieces, but there were dozens of audio outtakes and test recordings on the previous disc. I hope that I don't have to hold on to my old disc, and was really hoping that this would be included with a better interface than the previous disc.

#11 of 401 OFFLINE   Mike_G



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Posted October 19 2005 - 12:27 AM

6 days and counting...

What I hate about glowing reviews is the wait before the film is released Posted Image.

Thanks for the excellent review. I'm definitely getting this on Tuesday morning.


#12 of 401 OFFLINE   Mitch Kaufman

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:08 AM

As Mr. Harris previously stated, the new transfer strongly resembles the previous one. It's also slightly warmer. That said, to my eyes, it's still far inferior to both the first DVD, and to the Ultimate Oz laserdiscs, which were warmer and much more saturated. They were also less bright. (The newer ones strike me as way too bright.) Clearly, different, inferior source material was used for this transfer and the previous one. I urge anyone who has this older transfer to compare it to either of the more recent ones. A simple A-B comparison is sufficient to reveal the superiority of these older discs.

#13 of 401 OFFLINE   rich_d



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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:10 AM

Herb, Thanks for the review. That's a lot of material to cover. Clearly the new DVD shows more cropping, easiest seen where the apple is now missing in the Tin Man screen captures. As I see it the older DVD seems more pinkish blue and the new DVD more orangish yellow (in relation to each other). It will be interesting to compare the colors in the new DVD to matte paintings in the book The Invisibile Art: The Lengends of Movie Matte Painting (and a wonderful book at that) by Mark Cotta Vaz & Craig Barron. While it is true that how things looked native may not have translated into how they were filmed (or how they were printed in a book for that matter) it may be another interesting point of comparison.

#14 of 401 OFFLINE   Andrew Budgell

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:15 AM

Thanks for the great review, Herb! This is my favourite film along with Gone With the Wind and Cleopatra. Aren't I lucky that all my favourites have been released so perfectly? Andy

#15 of 401 OFFLINE   Mark-P



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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:17 AM

The ultra-resolution process uses the original 3-strip camera negatives which are scanned and digitally combined. How can that be inferior source material? I'm sure this new DVD is as perfect as Oz can look in NTSC. As the review states, the reason the difference is not eye-popping between this and the last DVD is that the last DVD was itself quite a stunning transfer.

#16 of 401 OFFLINE   Doug Schiller

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:17 AM

I know everyone will throw tomatoes at me but I wish they would have included the 16x9 version from the recent theatrical release as a bonus for those of use with HiDef TVs.
I'm not saying replace the full screen version, just add another disc or something Posted Image

#17 of 401 OFFLINE   Mitch Kaufman

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:28 AM

That's a good question. Of course we have no way of knowing whar was done to this scan in terms of after-the-fact video processing. I only know what my eyes tell me. And they tell me the older discs have much stronger color. The same is true of Singin' In The Rain, BTW. The first DVD has much better color. Sorry to rain on this parade, but it is what it is. Incidentally, I find all the Astaire-Rogers films to be soft. The old laserdisc of Swing Time may have more visible flaws, but it's also sharper, with greater detail.

#18 of 401 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:32 AM

Having stronger color doesn't necessarily mean it's the correct level of color. Crawdaddy

#19 of 401 OFFLINE   Kevin M

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:37 AM

Based on the screen caps, I'm not sure what I think of the new (originally intended?) color scheme. As many have said they definitely seem to have gone for a warmer tone and that is fine but are the whites supposed to have a cream tone rather than white? In many of the shots my eye is drawn towards the older transfer color rather than the new one...but being based on screen caps this isn't the most accurate judgment one could make. I'll buy this one without reservation. Still, I have to admit that I'm not sure what I think of the new tones.
-Kevin M.

There's a human tendency to resent anyone who disagrees with our pleasures.  The less mature interpret that as a personal attack on themselves.
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#20 of 401 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted October 19 2005 - 01:38 AM

Good point Robert. "Better" might not be correct, which seems to be causing all sorts of (needless IMO) controversy with Warner.

Excellent review Herb. I'm not a huge fan of this movie but the third disc alone is worth it to me. The 1910 version is pretty darn funny (especially the cow filling in for the dog). Posted Image

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