All due respect to Sam Raimi's decent Oz: The Great and Powerful, but when it comes to onscreen depictions of that magical land over the rainbow, it's impossible to top the 1939 childhood favorite The Wizard of Oz, which is now 75 years young. (Although, if you want to be all ageist about it, the film doesn't technically hit the big 7-5 until 2014.) Warner Bros., which currently holds distribution rights to the Victor Fleming-directed musical fantasy, is marking the occasion by releasing a five-disc Blu-ray and DVD set sporting all-new bonus features and collectibles on October 1. But before you can bring Oz home, you can also experience it on the big screen thanks to a WB-funded IMAX 3D presentation that's opening for a one-week-only stint today. (Go here to find specific IMAX locations in your area.) If you do decide to take your family to The Wizard of Oz -- and honestly, why wouldn't you? -- here are four things you should know:
The 3D is Unobtrusive
Up until this point, most of the library titles that the studios have pulled out of mothballs to receive the 3D treatment have been more contemporary films -- think Titanic, The Lion King and the Star Wars series. As the press material trumpet, The Wizard of Oz is now officially the oldest movie to enter the third dimension (not to mention IMAX), mainly so that the studio could earn a little extra coin from the higher ticket prices. Even though it's a cash grab, at least Warner's shelled out the dough for an above-average conversion, giving the restoration team a full 16 months to complete the transfer. In other words, this ain't no Clash of the Titans rush job, with beards poking off the screen. In fact, for the most part, the 3D isn't all that noticeable; it's at its most pronounced in the opening Kansas sequence, then fades away when Dorothy arrives in Oz. While that kind of makes you wonder why they bothered adding the 3D element at all (again: money), I'm also relieved that the team didn't go overboard in justifying the conversion by forcibly "popping out" random scenes and bits of business. Even through 3D glasses, The Wizard of Oz looks as beautiful as always.
See It in Real Imax, Not Faux-Max
New York press was shown Oz in one of those converted IMAX auditoriums, where an IMAX projector is directed a standard-sized screen. The effect was, I'm sorry to say, a little like watching a really big television, especially because the studio made the admirable (but, in this case, questionable) call to keep the film at its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The boxier dimensions of an actual IMAX screen would better complement that choice, but in a standard theater, the film occupied the center of the screen while the sides remained dark and unused. Instead of being overwhelmed by IMAX-sized spectacle, Oz came across as curiously small. So do your research ahead of time and make sure your local theater has a true IMAX screen or, at the very least, a more convincing Faux-Max set-up.
It Continues to Scare -- and Therefore Delight -- Kids
Remember when kids' movies weren’t afraid to be scary? (I blame my generation; we were so traumatized by stuff like The Dark Crystal and The Secret of NIMH that as soon as we got into positions of creative control, we determined that we wouldn't expose our own kids to such awesome entertainments ever again.) Sure, The Wizard of Oz isn't exactly Saw, but it triggers plenty of primal fears, whether it's those flying monkeys, the Wicked Witch or something else altogether. For example, I brought my six-year-old son along for his first viewing and he proved fine with the monkeys and the witch (who freaked me the hell out when I was his age -- Margaret Hamilton's cackle is a thing of horrific beauty), but when those apple-throwing trees turned up, he bolted out of the theater. Here's the thing, though: he came back. And wanted to see more. Because that's what truly great kid's entertainment does. Even when -- check that, especially when -- it unnerves you, you want to see what happens next. Sure, kids sit patiently through all that bland, sanitized stuff like Planes and The Smurfs, but do you really think they remember any of it? They'll never forget (and always love) The Wizard of Oz because it had the courage to scare them.
It's Still Totally Wonderful
The other, more important reason kids young and old love this Oz? Because, seven decades on, it's still wholly transporting, even without the benefit of the bells and whistles that are part of the CGI age. This is a case where all the elements -- story, performance, design and music -- flow together so seamlessly as to appear effortless. (Although the behind-the-scenes details that have leaked out over the years have more or less shown that the shoot itself was anything but.) Watching it this time around, I was most struck by the simple elegance of Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" performance (perhaps the least fussy showstopper in movie musical history), Hamilton's marvelous bluster and brio as cinema's best witch, the sweet sadness and quiet fortitude of Ray Bolger's Scarecrow and the vibrant greens of the Emerald City. When 2039 rolls around, expect The Wizard of Oz to feel as fresh and vital at 100 years as it does at 75.
Watch a history of The Wizard of Oz below.
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