Seemingly for every milestone anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, Warner Brothers creates another new theatrical restoration for the film that continually raises the bar and keeps the film looking absolutely pristine. The last time I saw a big screen restoration of the print in 1998, I was blown away with how incredible the colours still looked and popped off the screen even then. Granted, that was actually (somewhat embarrassingly) the first time I ever sat through the movie as a whole, but it was apparent even back then that Victor Flemings 1939 masterwork was definitely a big screen experience to behold. Every subsequent viewing of the film on DVD, Blu-Ray, and television broadcasts was nice and spoke to just how timeless L. Frank Baum’s fantasy truly is, but nothing ever compared to seeing it in a theatre.
Now as the film reaches its 75th anniversary, it would be naturally understandable of cinematic sceptics and purists to balk at the idea of an IMAX 3D retrofitting of the film. There are just some things that shouldn’t be messed with, but thankfully Wizard of Oz lends itself to the medium so well that this painstaking and almost unconscionably large scale effort (playing in cinemas sadly only for a week to trumpet the 3D Blu-Ray release in early October) makes the film look like it was made last week. Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful from earlier this year hasn’t aged as gracefully and looked as good as this does.
There’s not much to say about the movie itself that hasn’t been talked about before. Dorothy (Judy Garland) still gets swept up from her dustbowl home by a tornado, plopped down into a fantastical world where she makes iconic new friends, has to save a kingdom from a wicked witch, and searches for a mystic who can transport her back to Kansas and humanize her traveling buddies. The best thing about restorations is that most of the time the story never changes, and when the story is as tightly constructed as The Wizard of Oz (which is one of the only times a crew of over 15 credited and uncredited writers working on a single screenplay actually paid off) the work is pretty much done for having a successful and lengthy revival.
All that remains is making sure the image in intact, and Warner Brother clearly spared no expense to make sure this was a legitimate and viable remounting of the film with new technology and not a cash grab. The colours have a renewed vibrancy, but that could just be because their restoration and upkeep of the film seems like a constant and ongoing process. The full-frame Technicolor cinematography of Harold Rosson (who would influence generations of filmmakers to come with his work here, as well as on Singin’ in the Rain and El Dorado) seems custom made for large format auditoriums. Flying monkeys have never been more terrifying. The wide shots of Dorothy and her merry band looking down the yellow brick road to the distant Emerald City showcase a kind of grandeur and sense of time and space that makes the journey seem even more foreboding. Even the desolation of black and white Kansas looks stunning in new and exciting ways. Combined with a new beefed up sound mix, it’s a whole new experience and one worth taking in especially for fans or anyone who has never seen the film.
As for the 3D, there’s no need to worry. It works just fine without any colour loss or superfluous pixilation. It’s the one thing many might take umbrage with moreso than the large format conversion, but it looks far better than most modern post-conversions and even better than a lot of things that were shot in 3D to begin with. Again, it’s the movie that matters, and the movie is excellent. So too is this renewed vision.