The Wizard of Oz (1990) Cartoon & DVD Review

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This review was originally written on September 8, 2004 & April 28, 2007
An Insult To Fans Of The Classic 1939 Movie

I have mixed feelings about this series. On one hand I really like The Wizard Of Oz (1939) movie and I fondly remember watching this series Saturday mornings back when ABC actually showed GOOD cartoons (The Real Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, etc.). On the other hand, this series is a slap in the face to all fans of the original 1939 movie. For starters, it's damn near impossible to make a decent series based on the movie featuring ALL of the memorable characters since the movie ended with the hero (Dorothy) back home in Kansas, the villain (the Wicked Witch of the West) melted to oblivion, the Wizard floating off to parts unknown (presumably back to his homeland), and the three friends (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion) being left to take care of Oz and the Emerald City.

I suppose you could set it in Kansas and do stories about the life of the teenage Dorothy, but that would leave out all of the Oz characters. You could do stories about the travels of the Wizard, but since he's a con man, it's hard to see him as a "good guy" and a good role model. The only thing left would be to do a show about the citizens of Oz with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion presiding over the whole land like royalty. I've never read the Oz books, so I don't know how many more different Oz residents there are, but since Oz is a wacky place all by itself, the writers could let their imaginations go wild, and create new characters. The problem with this idea is that it leaves out three main characters: Dorothy, Wizard, and Wicked Witch of the West. The creators of this series would have none of that. They MUST have ALL of the main characters, the ending of the film be damned!

And so we got a series that totally ignores all character development from the film and carefully disregards certain parts of the ending. Dorothy is inexplicably back in Oz. The title sequence suggests that her ruby slippers glowed in her closet back in Kansas, thus sending out a distress call that she was needed back in Oz, and so she used them to return. There goes the whole "it was only a dream" plot device that the film laid out for us at the end. OK, I can suspend my disbelief for this to be possible. Next the title sequence shows us that the Wicked Witch wasn't melted at all, but merely turned to wood! The winged monkeys bring her back to life by putting her hat back on her head and putting her broomstick back in her hand. Now I'm starting to get worried.

Remember at the end of the film the Wizard gave the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion some items (diploma, heart clock, badge of courage - respectively) to reflect the attributes that they felt they were missing, but told them in no uncertain terms that they didn't need these items because they had those attributes all along (as they demonstrated numerous times throughout the film)? Well, they must have been missing the attribute of "paying attention" because in this show they lack all of those attributes they "had all along" simply because all of their "special items" are locked up in storage at the Emerald City where the Wicked Witch is keeping guard over them. The three friends are constantly complaining throughout the entire series about not having those attributes because they don't have the items, yet as in the film they display those attributes numerous times. What they DO have is a total lack of self-esteem as they are constantly discrediting themselves when they display those supposedly "lost" attributes (to paraphrase the Scarecrow: "I have an idea, but since I don't have a brain, it musn't be a very good idea.")

The Wizard is back, but he's stuck forever floating around Oz in his hot air balloon because the Wicked Witch put a spell on the wind so that it won't let him stay in one place for very long. Throughout the series Dorothy and friends are trying to catch up with him, but he always leaves just before they go to where he was last seen at. Why he doesn't just decide to ditch the balloon and stay on foot, where he's safer, is beyond me. Glinda, the good witch, is no great help as she is so powerless that all she can do is put a spell on the balloon so the Wicked Witch can't harm him while he's in it (I'd still take my changes on foot rather than floating around aimlessly), and put an Emerald Star in the sky above the Emerald City which glows as long as he's alive. Remind me not to call Glinda for help the next time I'm in trouble.

There are many MANY times in first two episodes ("Rescue of the Emerald City" Parts 1&2) and the twelfth episode ("Day the Music Died") alone that you'll be thinking to yourself "Why doesn't this person go there, or do this?" For example, in the first episode the Wizard is on foot in the safe confines of a fort. The Wicked Witch and her winged monkeys come to cause havoc, and the dumb Wizard thinks he'd be safer taking to the air in his balloon than hiding inside the fort (a large opened door in the fort can clearly been see in the background). The twelfth episode involves the citizens of Musicland not feeling very musical because the conductor's baton was stolen. Dorothy suggests he use his hands, and she even tries it herself to show him that it'll work, but the lazy citizens would rather read their newspapers and sleep than pay any attention to her. At this point, if I were Dorothy, I'd say "screw you all" and leave. They're not worth my help. As Dorothy and friends pointed out with their song and dance number (a dance themed song to the melody of "If I Only Had A Brain/Heart/Nerve" - which is rather good and even mentioned the Lambada!), the music isn't dead in the land of Oz, just in Musicland. So, who cares? Let the Musicland citizens die of boredom for all I care, the rest of Oz will move on with their lives.

By the way, although credit is given to the music composers of the 1939 film (since this series uses a lot of the movie themes), no credit is given to L. Frank Baum (the writer of the original book series).

Although the series lasted only 13 episodes, we have been "gifted" with a few DVD releases...and they don't even contain the whole series!

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The Rescue of the Emerald City DVD contains the following episodes:

1. Rescue of the Emerald City - Part 1 (09/08/1990) (ep 1)
2. Rescue of the Emerald City - Part 2 (09/15/1990) (ep 2)
3. The Day the Music Died (11/24/1990) (ep 12)

Purists be forewarned that the original DIC logo at the end of the show has been replaced with the new "The Incredible World Of DIC" logo.

Although the colors are bright and the sound is great, the overall quality of the episodes is rather poor as there is a lot of dirt and debris in them and the picture jumps a little on more than one occasion. It would have been really nice if they cleaned up the episodes when they transferred them to DVD.

The disc contains absolutely NO bonus features, save for a lame (nee VERY easy) six question trivia game. If you win it, you're treated to a commercial for the DVD releases of "Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century" and "The Wizard Of Oz." Yeah, that's such a great prize! Plus on start-up there's an ad for other DIC properties and on the main menu the DIC logo brings up a few more ads.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Inspector Gadget provides help on ALL of the menu screens (and appears on them). This "feature" is meant to help little kids, for whom this disc is targeted. But it comes off as really lame since this isn't an Inspector Gadget DVD and that's not Don Adams providing his voice. For the record, all of DIC's DVDs from this time period (2001) contain the Inspector Gadget Help option (I have the Sabrina The Animated Series disc and it's on there too).

The only REAL bonus feature that could actually be of use to someone are English subtitles, which of course is good if you're deaf or hard of hearing as the episodes are not closed captioned. The audio is stereo (2.0 channel) and the runtime is 63 minutes.

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The Continuing Story DVD contains the following episodes:

1. Fearless (9/22/1990) (ep 3)
2. Crystal Clear (9/29/1990) (ep 4)
3. We're Not in Kansas Anymore (10/6/1990) (ep 5)
4. Time Town (11/3/1990) (ep 6)

The audio is stereo (2.0 channel) and the runtime is 88 minutes. There's not much more to say about this disc.

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We're Off To Save The Wizard! DVD contains the following episodes:

1. Hot Air (12/1/1990) (ep 13)
2. A Star Is Gone (10/27/1990) (ep 8)
3. Upside-down Town (11/17/1990) (ep 11)
4. Dream A Little Dream (10/20/1990) (ep 7)

I've never viewed this DVD, so I can't say anything more about it.

So, you have to buy three separate DVDs and you'll still be missing two episodes:

• The Lion That Squeaked (10/13/1990) (ep 6)
• The Marvelous Milkmaid of Mechanica (11/10/1990) (ep 10)

With so few episodes to the series, DIC should have just released the whole series in a 2-disc set. Of course, you can just go to YouTube to watch the complete series: U.S. / U.K. (US has the episodes split in two-halves each).

The Hitchhiker Vol. 1-4 VHS Review

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This review was originally written on August 15, 2004
Episode Titles, Descriptions, Casts, and Notes

The Hitchhiker was a Twilight Zone-esque show that aired on HBO in the early 1980s. It was somewhat of a precursor to HBO's later Tales from the Crypt series. Four volumes of episodes were released on VHS back in the 1980s by Lorimar Home Video. Each tape contains three episodes, the first of which is complete, while the other two are missing the beginning title sequence. All episodes end after the "Markowitz/Chesler Producing" logo (the "This Has Been An HBO Presentation" screen is omitted). Each tape was duplicated in the SP speed. An interesting bit of trivia: the tapes in this series originally sold for a suggested retail price of $39.95 (according to the commercial on the Vol. 4 tape).

I will be taking a quick look at all of them, starting with The Hitchhiker Vol. 1 VHS, which includes the following three episodes:

• "The Curse" - Jerry Maclachlan is the owner of a rundown apartment building who promises Serita, a tenant, that he will make repairs to the building. After he becomes involved with a strange woman Tanya, he discovers a snake tattoo on his body. Both Serita and Tanya tell him how to get rid of the snake. Stars: Harry Hamlin, Peter Yunker, Daryl Hayes, Janet Hodgkinson, Arnold Johnson, Deborah Lacey, Laurie O'Byrne, and Beah Richards.

• "W.G.O.D" - Reverend Nolan Powers is a money hungry radio evangelist preaching on the air waves about the bible. 0ff the air, he's a self-righteous greedy man. A tabloid news reporter, Sato, digs up the story about how the Reverend killed his brother, Gerald. Gerald's ghost comes back to haunt the Reverend, ruin his career and pay him back for causing his death. Stars: Gary Busey, Robert Ito, Geraldine Page, Brioni Farrell, and Ian Forsyth.

• "Hired Help" - Kay Mason, abusive owner of a dressmaking sweatshop, is cursed by an angry worker who exclaims that she will be paid back by the devil for her actions. When she hires a mysterious stranger to do some odd jobs around the house, she doesn't realize he's the devil in disguise. Stars: Karen Black, Fernando Allende, and Donnelly Rhodes.

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The Hitchhiker Vol. 2 VHS includes the following three episodes:

• "Dead Man's Curve" - Claudia now a famous novelist, returns home for her high school reunion and opens old wounds in Lee, the sheriff. Claudia finds out that Lance, her town-appointed escort, is really the son of a former high school boyfriend who blames her for his father's death. Fighting over her, Lance and Lee replay the fateful event that killed Lance's father. Stars: Susan Anspach, Michael Ironside, and Michael Schoeffling.

• "Nightshift" - Jane Reynolds is a nurse at a retirement home where she steals the resident's valuables, which her boyfriend Johnny hocks. The couple get an unpleasant surprise when her newest victim is an old man who is much more than he seems. Stars: Darren McGavin, Margot Kidder, and Stephen McHattie.

• "Last Scene" - Alex, a former actor, tries to prove his abilities as a first-time director. In his first film he must deal with a first-time actress, Leda Bidell. Off the set Leda is being terrorized by the fictional killer from the movie, and when she finds out who it is, she enacts the last scene with him in reality and instills in him a fear that haunts him for the rest of his life. Stars: Peter Coyote, LaGena Hart, Tom Heaton, and Garwin Sanford. Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

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The Hitchhiker Vol. 3 VHS includes the following three episodes.

• "Ghostwriter" - Jeffrey Hunt will resort to anything to create a lucrative career as a novelist, even if it means faking his own death. His wife Debby believes he is dead and continues her affair with Tony, Jeffrey's editor. By the end, everyone must pay for their own deceptions. Stars: Barry Bostwick, Willem Dafoe, M. Emmet Walsh, Dayle Haddon, Anthony Holland, and Madeleine Sherwood.

• "True Believer" - A non-believer in the supernatural, Detective Frank Sheen must investigate a priest's suspicious suicide. Upon questioning Father Dowling he learns that the convent is demonically possessed and closed down years before when Sister Theresa committed suicide. After one night in the place, he soon begins having his own suicidal feelings. Stars: Tom Skerritt, Ornella Muti, and Walter Learning.

• "And If We Dream" - Roseanne Lucas develops a mad and obsessive crush on her married high school photography teacher Todd Fields. Todd finds more than he bargained for when he steps over the line and sleeps with her. Stars: Stephen Collins, Roberta Weiss, Brian Dooley, Nicholas Kilbertus, Bronwen Mantel, and Mitch Martin.

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The Hitchhiker Vol. 4 VHS includes the following three episodes.

• "Videodate" - Jack Rhodes is a salesman that attempts to wear many disguises to get what he wants - women. One day, he gets a video letter from a mysterious woman who challenges him to meet her. She plays him like a fiddle and takes advantage of him. Now the tables are turned and Jeff can't escape, not even with his life. Stars: Shannon Tweed, Gregg Henry, Pauline Little, Michael Rudder, and Linda Smith.

• "Face To Face" - Dr. Christopher Hamilton, an ambitious and pompous plastic surgeon, meets his challenge in Nina Russell, a patient in the process of a gender change. He completely botches up the procedure when he shows up to the surgery unprepared. Stars: Robert Vaughn, Sonja Smits, Sybil Danning, Michele Scarabelli, Robin Greer, and Arthur Corber.

• "Man's Best Friend" - Richard Shepard is kicked out of his house by his wife Eleanor. He takes in a stray dog that begins killing off his enemies. When the dog goes for Eleanor, Richard tries to keep the dog from killing the woman he loves. Stars: Jennifer Cooke, Michael O'Keefe, Boyd Norman, Margot Pinvidic, and Joel Polis.

Weird Al Yankovic - The Ultimate Video Collection DVD Review

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This review was originally written on July 4, 2004
How Could They Screw Up Something So Simple?

It shouldn't pose much of a problem to put together a DVD containing a collection of music videos. So how come the makers of the Weird Al Yankovic: The Ultimate Video Collection DVD got so much wrong?

1. The videos are not in chronological order. That right there is a major no-no.

2. There is a layer change-type pause inbetween EVERY video (I think they put each video on it's on Title and my player has to pause in order to retrieve the video). Because of this, some of the extreme end of the audio for each video gets cut off.

3. There are some compression artifacts, such as at the very end fade outs of "I Lost On Jeopardy" and "The Saga Begins", and after the movie clip montage in "UHF". Considering the total length of the videos is 86 minutes (plus another 10-15 minutes for the bonus features), there should not have been a need for very much compression, so there should be no artifacts at all.

It should also be noted that the Spy Hard video has two titles: "Spy Hard" and "Opening Title Sequence by 'Weird Al' Yankovic." The one on his previous DVD release ("Weird Al Yankovic: The Videos") has no titles at all. Of course, in the film "Spy Hard" all of the titles are present. This means that there are now three different versions of this video.

Weird Al Yankovic UHF DVD Review

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This review was originally written on July 1, 2004
Side A Is Excellent, Side B Is A Major Disappointment

Overall, the UHF DVD (MGM) is excellent, however I can't give it a perfect 5 star rating because of what's on side B: deleted scenes and the Pan & Scan version of the film (not the full frame unmatted version from the original VHS release). Al mentions that there are hours of deleted scenes, so why didn't they use the entire side B for them? Nobody asked for the crappy Pan & Scan version of the film. To add insult to injury, two of the deleted scenes are fast forwarded through. Sorry Al, but even if you don't think those two scenes are of any value, your fans think otherwise.

2017 UPDATE - Although my mini-review was about the original 2002 MGM DVD release, it can also apply (mostly) to the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD and Blu-ray released in 2014 by Shout Factory because all DVD extras (minus the Easter Eggs) were ported over "as is" with no new deleted scenes added.

Billy Joel: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 DVD Review

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This review was originally written on July 1, 2004
They Chopped Up The Music Videos!

As a fan I enjoy hearing Billy speak about his music and videos, but not at the expense of the videos themselves. The person who edited the Billy Joel: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 DVD together chopped up most of the music videos so as to intersperse Billy's comments within them. All of the music videos are chopped up, except for:

-- And So It Goes [though Billy speaks over it]

-- No Man's Land [after a false start, the real video plays complete]

-- Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) [though Billy speaks over the last few seconds of the video]

-- To Make Your Feel My Love [though Billy speaks over the very end of the video]

It should also be noted that the last two videos are in reverse order from how they are listed on the packaging. "Hey Girl" and "To Make Your Feel My Love" is the correct order.