The Wiz (Universal) (1978)
|Year Of Production||1978|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (66:23)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Sidney Lumet|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Clyde J. Barrett
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Writing a plot synopsis of The Wiz without starting to give away spoilers is somewhat difficult. As a blaxploitation version of The Wizard of Oz, it features variants of most of the key scenes of every other film version of L. Frank Baum's original text, cast in the light of the political issues concerning the black American community in the mid-70s. Adapted through the successful Broadway musical, The Wiz tackles issues such as peer pressure and reduced expectations, drug problems, the sacrifices being made for the sake of fashionability and the insularity of the community at the expense of independent success.
Dorothy, a 24-year-old school teacher played by Diana Ross, chases her dog Toto into a Harlem snowstorm, from which a tornado catapults her into the land of Oz. Arriving through the roof of a playground, Dorothy lands to find that she has accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East - a Commissioner of the Parks Department who cursed the munchkins for graffitiing their playground. A numbers runner called Miss One (Thelma Carpenter) sends Dorothy looking for the Yellow Brick Road that will lead her to the fabled Wiz who can send her home, but along the way she encounters a scarecrow (a young Michael Jackson, who is indeed appearing together with Ms Ross, munchkins and flying monkeys - none of which I will be making jokes about) who is being tormented by crows that tell him how futile it is to try to rise above his circumstances.
The scarecrow - who appears to be stuffed with a page-a-day desk calendar - wants to ask the Wiz for a brain, so he joins Dorothy on her journey. Along the way they encounter a tin man in need of a heart (Nipsey Russell) and a lion who's lacking courage (Ted Ross), a narcotic den called the Poppy Fields, an Emerald City at the base of the World Trade Centre, the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys, and a Wiz who...
Ah, you know how it goes.
The musical is set in an Oz that's a New York surrogate, making sure that the allegory is as stark as possible, but also providing a cheesy urban sense that makes sure that the film doesn't drift too far off into fantasy, as Xanadu, made two years later, did to its detriment. The Quincy Jones score is upbeat and catchy, and songs such as Ease on Down the Road, Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News and Jackson's turn on You Can't Win hang in the mind long afterward.
Movie remakes are like cover versions of popular songs - you have to bring something new to them or there's no point producing them. Nevertheless, too ambitious a reworking can alienate fans of the original. The Wiz sets out to target an audience completely different to that of the best-known movie version of The Wizard of Oz, and works on the level of camp fun with a message that's present but not too imposing. The film is showing its age, and it's very much locked into its own era, but if you're looking for a disco musical I'll take this one over You Can't Stop the Music or Grease.
Another example of a good transfer of a pretty ratty source.
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect and is 16x9 enhanced
The film is quite soft, although not distractingly so, and is also relatively grainy, especially apparent whenever there is a light or patch of white on screen. There is also a substantial degree of low-level noise, making most blacks appear to be odd shades of grey.
Colours appear to be somewhat dull, considering how bright some of the scenes are. Blacks are also quite poor (see above) and shadows are very indistinct, which becomes a problem toward the end of the film during some important scenes which are shot in very shadowy rooms.
While there are no noticeable problems in the digital transfer, the source has a litany of problems. There is visible telecine wobble, white artefacts throughout, and there are a number of places where vertical black artefacts run for seconds at a time. Despite this, each artefact individually (although distracting in themselves) is not nearly as bad as on many other discs I've seen.
The only subtitle track omits and rephrases for the sake of time, but is acceptably accurate throughout, including through the songs.
The RSDL change is at 66:23, and is poorly placed over action and background sound.
The sole audio track is a Dolby Digital 4.0 track (no subwoofer and linking the rear speakers together) encoded at 384 Kb/s.
The dialogue levels are quite poor, with speech often being drowned out by incidental music or simply being muffled. The audio sync is quite good for speech, but is expectedly poor when the actors are miming to prerecorded songs.
The songs throughout sound somewhat muffled, and the incidental music sounds as though it was recorded through paper.
Although the surrounds are active, they are barely used and are monodirectional.
The subwoofer was not troubled throughout the feature, although there are a number of times when it would have added to the piece.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 disc also includes French subtitles and a series of web links, but unless you require the alternate language subtitles I would stick with the PAL version over the NTSC.
The Wiz is a product of its time, and it's unashamedly camp, but it's still a great musical for anyone that enjoys them.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Panasonic TX-86PW300A. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Pioneer VSX-512.|
|Speakers||Wharfedale Diamond 8.3 fronts, Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 rears, Wharfedale Diamond 8 centre, Wharfedale 12" sub|