Another day, another film from the past taken into the present with a 3D enhancement. This time it’s the timeless, cherished classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” I suppose when your 75th birthday rolls around, you’re entitled to a new outfit or two.
This is undoubtedly the best known rendition of “The Wizard of Oz,” with Judy Garland, all 4 feet 11 inches worth, playing Dorothy in an emotional, cohesive performance that still carries weight in the twenty-first century. Directed by Victor Fleming (who also directed “Gone With the Wind” the same year “The Wizard of Oz” debuted in 1939) and adapted from L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale about a Kansas girl’s journey over the rainbow, the film starred Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion and Jack Haley as the Tin Man. Frank Morgan played six different roles, including that of the wonderful Wizard of Oz himself.
“The Wizard of Oz” received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It won two Academy Awards for Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score, plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Judy Garland. Overwhelmingly popular and a critical success upon its initial release, MGM reissued the film in 1949 and 1955. In 1956, “The Wizard of Oz” made its network television premiere on CBS, and since then, its been an annual airing, often around the holidays.
To mark the film’s 75th anniversary, Warner Bros. has produced a 3D remastered version of the film that is being distributed through multiple channels. The film was recently in IMAX and regular theaters nationwide, showcasing the remastering of the image and sound quality with proprietary IMAX DMR (digital remastering) technology. If you’ve ever seen an IMAX film, you know all about the image quality, powerful digital audio and immersive experience. It’s sweet.
The 3D conversion was, according to the press release, a long and complex project which Warner Bros. initiated with a very high resolution (8k) scanning of the original Technicolor camera negative. The restored 2D image was then transformed by creating a depth-map of each frame to construct 3D imagery and determine distances from the viewer’s vantage point. This was followed by the long process (with the use of a rotoscope) to further refine viewer distances and fully layer shapes and objects.
After I’d offered to loan “The Wizard of Oz” to friend of mine for his young children to watch, he told me that he thought it was “too much” for them to take in Too much?! Surely they’ve seen worse things on billboards in town or during commercial breaks. I suppose he’s got a point in the end. After all, you’ve got tornadoes, flying houses landing on people, monkeys terrorizing helpless bystanders and a lady literally melting into the Earth. But if “The Wizard of Oz” is a violent film by today’s standards, you can have my film reviewer’s resignation right here and now.
The film’s magic has withstood the test of time. It’s a special combination of bright colors, catchy music and lively, engaging performances that draw you into its good versus evil storyline. I suppose the real test will be what folks 75 years from now are saying, if anything, about “The Wizard of Oz.” This aside, the story remains heartwarming and rich with passionate execution.
I remember being a lot younger and seeing Judy Garland performing in something else, only to react with a perplexing look of confusion. To me, at that age, her only role was Dorothy, and no matter how many other versions of “The Wizard of Oz” I came across in print, on the screen or on the stage, she was hands down the best to ever seize this role. To imagine “The Wizard of Oz” without her is like imagining “Citizen Kane” without Orson Welles, or “The Shawshank Redemption” without Morgan Freeman. It just isn’t right.
As much fun as “The Wizard of Oz” is, I think you’ll have to be a serious fan to pick up the newest incarnation in 3D. I’m personally not that fond of movies that weren’t released in a certain format and are amended to be more modern. Doing so suggests that said changes will enhance the film, while in most cases, this one included, there isn’t a darn thing wrong to begin with. But, given its age, the occasional touch up isn’t such a terrible thing for a film as important as this one.
In the end, we arrive with the same film we’ve loved for many years. It’s just as exciting and heartwarming as always, but it looks better than ever before with the changes that have been made. Let’s hope this newest version gets through to new audiences and carries itself forward into the future.
Earlier I referred to some of the updates in this edition, and they really do make this version top of the line. With a 1.37:1 1080p High Definition video transfer, you’re in for a bright and crisp treat to enjoy. The cinematography, which for the time was pretty inventive, brings significant enhancement to the overall experience. Coloration is the film’s star in this 75th anniversary edition, and I can say with reasonable confidence that this is the best “The Wizard of Oz” has ever looked for home viewing.
The English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack is more audible than prior releases, and it picks up some natural background noise juxtaposed with the catchy singing numbers. The music is ever so well articulated: ominous when needed, and joyous where necessary. The song “Over the Rainbow” is bellowed out to the point where you wish you could hear the entire thing a second (or third) time. Other audio options here are French (Parisian 5.1 and Quebec 1.0 [3D version only]) plus Spanish 1.0. Subtitle choices are English, French and Spanish.
According to the press release, this edition includes all special features included in all previously released editions, plus a new documentary titled “The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that offers a candid overview of how a troubled production overcame the odds to become an integral part of American culture. Commentary, sing alongs and the like are here too, totaling over 2 hours of extras.
A Final Word:
So much has already been said about “The Wizard of Oz.” Most have probably already said it better than I, so I’ll just reiterate what I’ve always thought about the film: it’s a classic that I hope to share with my children someday, and maybe even my grandchildren.