It may be difficult to imagine today, but there once was a time when watching a movie rerun on tv was appointment viewing.
The Wizard of Oz was already 17 years old when it made its broadcast debut on CBS in November, 1956. Though only moderately successful theatrically, the film became an annual broadcast tradition: returning every year to huge audiences.
Forty years later, Oz migrated first to cable tv and then to home video. Its most recent incarnation came only four years ago when it was released as a re-mastered blu-ray.
Now for its 75th anniversary Warner Bros. is touting yet another blu-ray release due Oct. 1 and to mark that occasion, the studio has commissioned a 3D IMAX conversion that will be playing nationwide on 300 screens for only one week beginning Friday, Sept. 20. The Wizard of Oz is the oldest film ever to be converted to 3D and IMAX 3D and required a team of 1,000 technicians and artists, investing many thousands of man-hours over a 16-month period.
We got to see the result at the newly reopened TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, home of the film’s original Hollywood premiere in 1939. The remodeled TCL’s IMAX screen is the third largest in North America at 94’ wide x 46’ tall. The auditorium is billed as the world’s largest IMAX theatre, with 932 seats.
Even among its most die-hard fans, very few alive today have ever seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen and it’s safe to say that none have ever seen it this large or at this resolution.
Many purists worried about the 3D conversion, but it is relatively understated and serves to add depth to several scenes without any jarring elements flying at the screen. I would have preferred a 2D IMAX presentation where I could marvel at the beautiful Technicolor cinematography, charming set designs and amazing makeup without the slight dimming introduced by 3D glasses.
The sound and score sound terrific in digital audio and most of the effects are pretty convincing. Yes, of course those backdrops are painted and the Munchkinland flowers are made of cellophane, but that’s part of the film’s charm. If you consider that this movie was made only ten years after the release of the first “talkie,” it’s actually a technical miracle. The only minor quibble is that the very sharp transfer reveals the occasional makeup defects on the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch.
The film itself holds up remarkably well despite its age, thanks mostly to a clever script with excellent songs and engaging performances by Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) and especially Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion).
The limited and numbered The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition is a five-disc set including blu-ray, blu-ray 3D, DVD and UltraViolet versions of the film, plus bonus features, new documentaries and collectible items.
Even if you intend on buying the new release, we still recommend you attend an IMAX screening. It’s a very special treat for audiences both young and old and we wouldn’t be surprised to see The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience become a recurring attraction on IMAX screens throughout the world.