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Why 'The Wizard of Oz' 3-D IMAX Conversion is Worth It

Photo of Aljean Harmetz By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood September 18, 2013 at 11:48AM

I have seen “The Wizard of Oz” at least 26 times. I have watched it in movie theatres, on television, on tape, on DVD, on Blu-Ray, after talking about the movie to 1000 people in Sacramento, and twice in 16 millimeter on my living room wall when I was writing “The Making of the Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM” 35 years after the movie was made.
The Wizard of Oz

In Kansas, one could see things that were invisible or not noticed before -- a coffeepot, the feathers on a baby chicken. In Oz, too, the folds in the Scarecrow’s burlap bag face and a bird in the apple tree were, rather shockingly, there to be seen. For the first time, the ball in which Glinda, the Good Witch, appears and disappears did not seem like a flawed special effect but something out of a fairy tale. And the black cardboard matte paintings of sets also became real.

Best of all, the studio did not play games with or embellish the movie. No 3-D effects were launched into the audience to show how clever the filmmakers were, and they left the film in its original 1939 aspect ratio of 1.37.1 instead of turning it into a wide screen extravaganza.

I have some reservations.  When you could see the two sets of birds in the trees, that clarity made the witch’s forest much less scary.  All of the characters that rush by Dorothy when the house has been picked up by the tornado seem out of focus.  And, in a few places, the perfection made the artificiality of OZ more artificial.         

What struck me most forcibly was how no vocal or visual enhancement could tarnish Judy Garland’s performance. In fact, surrounded by the utterly clear and intentional artificiality of Oz, she seemed realer than ever.

There is an irony in Warner Bros. taking such tender care of this MGM movie it inherited when it bought Turner Broadcasting Co. from Ted Turner in 1996. In the 1930s “The Wizard of Oz” was the antithesis of the torn-from-the-headlines gangster movies starring John Garfield and James Cagney that filled the Warner schedule. But things always change in Hollywood. Studios thrive. Studios die. Moviemakers lose control to corporate suits. Bigger corporations feed on littler fish.

But “The Wizard of Oz” might just stick around for its 100th anniversary.

Aljean Harmetz is the author of “The Making of the Wizard of Oz.” The updated edition will be published by Chicago Review Press on October 1.

This article is related to: Features, IMAX, Classics, 3-D, 3D, The Wizard of Oz

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.