The Wizard of Oz (1939)

This review is for the 3D remastered rerelease of the Wizard of Oz that was released in 2013 to theaters worldwide and eventually released onto Blu-Ray. Really, what more do I need to say about America’s most iconic movie? How many other movies can use a simple concept from the movie itself and be instantly recognized by the vast majority of the general public? All of those are simple rhetorical questions – there are obviously very few movies that have the kind of cachet and instant recognition that Oz has. Here’s a brilliant and deceptively simple advertising image put together for the re-release of The Wizard of Oz in 3D and IMAX for its 75th anniversary:

Glorious and perfect.

Like many other Americans, my first introduction to The Wizard of Oz was through one of the several television screenings that were ubiquitous in the 1980s – back when most people only had over-the-air channels, and the ‘movie of the week’ was the big event on television. Eventually, a copy was acquired on VHS tape, and I definitely wore that tape out. Then when the first DVD came out, I immediately snapped it up – paper snap case and all. It was one of the first ten movies I purchased for the DVD format, when DVDs were selling in the $20-30 range on average. I’ve then proceeded to repurchase it a few more times, most recently with the superb Emerald Edition Blu-ray.

But as with a handful of other movies – I still had never seen it in the theater. A few movies are worthy of  watching in the theater even when a home release is available – The Wizard of Oz meets that criteria. It’s also one of the few films on my ‘bucket list’ to see at any cost ‘on the big screen’. It’s no coincidence that all are films I’ve already seen multiple times, or would want to view again in the cinema. Some of those have already been re-released for the theater and I didn’t manage to go watch them, such as the recent 3D version of Jurassic Park – I knew that I absolutely couldn’t miss the 3D release of The Wizard of Oz. For one thing, they did a completely new restoration. For another – who knows when I’d ever get another chance to see it in the theater? It’s not like there’s a huge market to sustain a prolonged re-release, despite Oz being vastly superior to 99% of the movies currently being made these days.

Sound effects have never been very important to me, but in the IMAX 3D showing, the audience can literally feel the ‘thump’ made as Dorothy’s house landed onto the Wicked Witch. The restoration was magnificent – one can actually see the burlap texture of Scarecrow’s skin, which isn’t visible in any previous restoration. Here’s a picture of what I’m referring to:

You’re able to see the texture of Scarecrow’s skin. That level of detail was never previously available other than in stills and promotional photographs (such as the above image). The rest of the film is vastly improved, with a veritable cornucopia of newly revealed detail in just about every scene. The special effects are amazing, and continue to stagger the imagination when you realize the limitations of the technology available at the time. The Technicolor pops out, especially with the understated 3D conversion allowing the film to stand on its own merits, with just the subtle touch of a master artist using the 3D effects to enhance, not distract from the film itself.

The other notes I took away from seeing this version of the film was how much makeup enhanced the film and how the costumes were well designed, especially with the Wicked Witch, who popped out with the 3D effect and the restored Technicolor luminosity of her makeup. Even the flying monkeys stand out, as I was never able to make out what their costumes looked like – now that I’m able to see that their costumes consist of scarlet and gray, it makes me wonder if there was already a subtle undercurrent of anti-Buckeye propaganda in the film from some USC alumni (that was just a joke).

As for notes about the movie itself – of course there are a few small errors and some amusing rumors (such as the munchkin suicide), but with this restoration revealing so much that was washed out or blurry in the past – you can literally see the putty used to adhere the hairdos to the Munchkins’ scalps, I just continue to become more impressed with the production of The Wizaard of Oz, and with the master makeup-craftsmen on the set. I cannot do justice to the set design, costume design, and the execution of either. It’s well-known that there were some issues with the makeup for the Tin Man (forcing that role to be recast), but all in all, it’s a remarkable feat to have produced Oz in 1939. This restoration is the best yet, even if you’re forced to view it in 3D – I didn’t have a  headache after watching Oz in 3D, which is a rarity for me with that technology.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to catch this special re-release, you don’t need to hear more from me about this film. If you have a chance to view this in IMAX 3D or even just regular 2D, seize the chance. Oz is a veritable pillar of the cinematic canon, which should obviously be required viewing for any cinephile or even anybody that watches movies. Even a cut and poorly restored version being shown on television is a worthy introduction for anybody new to Oz. And I don’t even have to delve into how well this adapted L. Frank Baum’s novel to the screen. It’s magnificent. And really, that’s all I can say.

MPAA Rating: PG (remember, the flying monkeys)
Cinematically Rating:

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