Over the years, we’ve all been down the yellow brick road. Most have first taken the journey via one of the many television broadcasts. Some have actually had that first experience in a movie theatre. And like all movies, there are those who love it, those who hate it, and many with childhood memories of being scared silly by either the flying monkeys or the gnarly talking apple trees. No matter your side of the fence, The Wizard of Oz is a true classic.
For the seventy-fifth anniversary of this generally beloved piece of movie magic, someone had the bright idea of spiffing it up through the use of current technology. The result was a digital remastering of not just the film, but in IMAX and 3-D. And for once, someone’s bright idea paid off. Seeing the latest upgrade of The Wizard of Oz is like seeing it for the first time.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch an IMAX showing, as that was only for one week back in September, and then had to make way for other IMAX commitments. But I did manage to see it in 3-D on its last day in town and it was well worth the effort. There’s no point in recounting the story of Dorothy and Toto and their journey from Kansas to Oz. We all know it. Many of us have seen it often enough that it’s fairly easy to recite the dialogue before it’s spoken, or to sing along with the many tuneful songs.
It’s mesmerizing to see familiar images now with the added depth of 3-D. Since the film was not originally designed for 3-D cinematography the added dimension doesn’t feel forced or gratuitous. Among the most effective are the arrival and departure of Glenda The Good Witch in her luminous globe, those fearsome flying monkeys, and most of all, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch. She looks greener and meaner than ever before, and has several scenes where you would think it had to have been shot in 3-D.
And let’s not forget “Over the Rainbow,” probably one of the most recorded songs in history. It’s been arranged, re-arranged, adapted and schmaltzed to death, but here, once again on the big screen, it seems like a small, introspective tune without all the bells and whistles. It’s plaintive and perfectly performed by Judy Garland. Before the film’s original release MGM wanted to cut the number from the film so they could get on with the action. Unthinkable!
We all have our favorite characters in The Wizard of Oz, but watching this again for the first time in several years, I was struck by what a really good actor Frank Morgan was especially since he has four roles in the film: the traveling peddler/magician, the door man at the wizard’s castle, the coach driver with the horse of a different color, and, of course, the alleged Wizard of Oz. He is a terrific character actor from an era when character actors were cherished and nurtured.
As I mentioned earlier, this restoration is no longer showing in town, but considering how well the IMAX version did in its brief run, there’s always hope that it might reappear in the future. If not, perhaps you have a friend who splurged on a 3-D television and Blu-Ray player, as it has just been released on home video. Mind you, I don’t advocate technological tinkering with every classic movie. I don’t think Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath would lend themselves to such manipulations. But in this instance, The Wizard of Oz not only looked splendid, it was a real treat to see on the big screen once again. Maybe it will encourage audiences to seek out more great films from the archive.