Critics' Picks : New Dvds

October 23, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW

THE WIZARD OF OZ / / Warner Home Video / $49.92

If some pooh-bah from the French Academy decided that the works of the Impressionists would be vastly improved if all their hazy lines were sharpened and their colors more clearly differentiated, he or she would be laughed out of Paris. But today's high-tech sorcerers have done something similar to The Wizard of Oz.

For its Tuesday release of a three-disc gift-box set, Warner Home Video has employed advanced digital techniques, and come up with a presentation that leeches the warmth and magic from one of the merriest movies ever made. The Technicolor of films like The Wizard of Oz derived its richness from three strips of black and white negative photographed through cyan, magenta and green filters. Printers injected these strips with the designated color dyes, then combined them; the result was the most shimmering spectrum ever committed to celluloid.

Using computer technology, the creators of this new version of Oz have aligned the three components with an exactness that filmmakers could only dream about back in 1939. That's the problem: They knew they could only dream about it, and recognized the finished print would be forgiving of a performer's age or a rickety special effect. Now you can see every straw in the Scarecrow's get-up. But you can also see every line on Billie Burke's face -- and the trap door that permits the Witch's no-longer-eerie exit from Munchkinland.

Special features: With a slew of new documentaries and commentary from knowledgeable Oz expert John Fricke, this box is far from a shuck. But once again, art takes a beating from technology.

LE SAMOURAI / / Criterion Collection / $29.95

Le Samourai (1967) remains Jean-Pierre Melville's coolest, sleekest and most influential salute to the hard-working professionals of the French underworld. Alain Delon plays a hit man who dodges the minions of a double-crossing employer, as well as the police, after murdering a nightclub boss. Although the antihero has a faithful moll (played by Delon's first wife, Nathalie Delon) and a thing for the nightclub's alluring pianist (Cathy Rosier), his attachments are all business. But when Melville pits Delon as an individual operator against an organization man par excellence, the inspector on his case (Francois Perier), Le Samourai elicits a detached yet exciting sort of sympathy.

The Criterion Collection has done its usual superb job of transferring the film to disc and packaging it with enlightening additions, including selections from interviews with Melville, both Delons, and Rosier and Perier.

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