As the classic The Wizard of Oz nears its 75th anniversary, the film returns to theaters in glorious IMAX!
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. Follow the yellow brick road. And your little dog, too! I’m melting! Ding dong the witch is dead. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The Wizard of Oz has likely contributed as much to the American lexicon as anything prior toStar Trek. (Just kidding— though “I’m giving ‘er all she’s got, Capt’n, He’s dead, Jim, Engage, Fascinating, Make it so, and I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer” do have their loyal fans.) The movie wasn’t a huge hit when it first opened in 1939, but it made up for it years later, particularly starting in the 1950s when it became an annual TV event.
Oz didn’t produce its full impact on the black and white televisions of the day, but nevertheless enchanted new audiences. The cast was perfection, and while everyone loves the 16 year-old Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow performance, veteran comic Bert Lahr nearly steals the show as the Cowardly Lion. In later years, as his movie career stalled (though he kept busy on Broadway and TV), he said he was unfortunately typecast as a lion, and lion parts were hard to come by.
The movie has also surfed wave after wave of entertainment technology, appearing on each new home video format from VHS to Blu-ray and everything in between. Theatrical exhibitions in recent years, however, have been sporadic at best. But starting on Friday, September 20th, the film will be shown for a week in IMAX theaters across the country. The occasion is its upcoming 75th anniversary. The film actually premiered in August 1939, so we seem to be a year early. But the filming commenced in October 1938, so perhaps they’re using that date instead.
The even bigger news is that these IMAX showings will be in digital 3D. There’s much talk about the film having been restored, but the restoring this time around would appear to be largely devoted to the 3D conversion, plus any work needed to make it look its best in digital IMAX. The film itself has already been restored and re-mastered more than once, including for its first Blu-ray release in 2009, accompanied at that time by a very limited theatrical run.
I know some of you are probably wondering what’s next, Gone With the Wind in 3D, or Citizen Kane (colorized, of course)? But after seeing an advanced IMAX screening of Oz earlier this week, I can say that 3D doesn’t diminish it a bit. The 3D was very well done, and entirely appropriate for the movie—unlike, say, colorizing Casablanca. It looked great in other respects as well. I have only three critiques. First, the 3D made me more conscious of the painted 2D backgrounds in many scenes. Second, as with the recent, beautifully produced but dramatically lame and too-frantic by half “prequel,” Oz the Great and Powerful, the sepia-toned opening scenes in Kansas were in 3D. They should have been in 2D, making the transition to Oz even more eye-popping by having it switch not only to color but to 3D as well. Perhaps they feared audiences would be flocking to the lobby in that first 15 minutes, complaining about their defective 3D glasses!
Third, I’m wondering if they used processing to minimize film grain. Two days after the IMAX showing I pulled out my 2009 Blu-ray, the most recent home video release currently available. The film grain typical of older films was immediately evident when viewed on a 65-inch flat panel (the Panasonic TC-P65ZT60). But I didn’t notice film grain at all in the theater. It wouldn’t be surprising if some grain reduction were used, given how obvious 1939-era film grain might be on a huge IMAX screen. But if this was indeed the case, I can’t say that it compromised the picture in any significant way.
Thanks to Thomas J. Norton of Soundandvision.com, where you can check out the rest of the story, including more on the new TCL Chinese IMAX Theater where the film was shown!