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Non-Review Review: The Wizard of Oz (IMAX, 3D)

“For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart,” an introductory title card advises the audience, “and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion.” Although the opening of The Wizard of Oz makes reference to the classic series of children’s stories written by Frank L. Baum, the text is just as applicable to the film itself. It has been seventy-five years, but The Wizard of Oz still has the power to warm even the most jaded and cynical of hearts.

Dorothy is modelling our snazzy red slippers. Order now to avoid disappointment...

Dorothy is modelling our snazzy red slippers. Order now to avoid disappointment…

The Wizard of Oz is a beloved classic. For the film’s seventy-fifth anniversary, Warner Brothers are blowing the dust off. The company has produced a complete remaster of the film. It will be screen in IMAX 3D, which is perhaps the grandest possible way of replaying a cinematic gem like this. The film looks great at that scale – a testament to the fantastic production design on the 1939 fantasy epic. The 3D is effective without being obtrusive, with the film brightened up so much that the colours bleed on through.

The Wizard of Oz is very much an institution. Much like the Indiana Jones films or It’s a Wonderful Life, you are guaranteed to find it airing somewhere over the Christmas season. Gathering around the television during the preparation (or in the wake) of Christmas dinner is an experience that many associate with The Wizard of Oz. It is the basis of many fond memories of years past, and much hope for the promise of years yet to come.

These guys are begging for a gritty reboot...

These guys are begging for a gritty reboot…

Yet, as with so many classic feature films, there is simply no substitute for seeing it on the big screen.  Seeing The Wizard of Oz on a gigantic screen, lovingly reconstructed and remastered, is a delightful experience for children of all ages. The sheer scale is impressive. Seeing The Wizard of Oz blown up that large is a humbling event. The movie holds up as well as ever, the songs play just as well as they did decades ago, the dialogue is just as quotable. But there is an impressive majesty to seeing it in this form.

While there are occasional moments where eagle-eyed viewers might discern a trapdoor or costume seam, these incidents are few and far between. The Wizard of Oz features an amazing production design, that still holds up today. The twister roaming through Kansas in the background of a fraught family scene, the armies of flying monkeys descending on our heroes, the Munchkin village revealing itself to Dorothy; all created without recourse to CGI or other modern techniques.

Which old witch...

Which old witch…

It is amazing to look at a production like The Wizard of Oz and wonder how such things were accomplished, and the time and effort and skill involved. It is a magic trick that still draws them in more than seven decades after it was first performed, blown up to an impossible scale so it can demonstrate that it still works. The Wizard of Oz is many things: it is a coming of age story, a heroine’s journey, a meditation on faith, hope and courage.

The Wizard of Oz is also a love story; a film that helped generations fall in love with film. It will likely continue to do so, passed down from generation to generation as a shared experience. Many of those who sing along with the film today are too young to have lived through the film’s original release; the same can be said of many of those sharing the experience with their children or even grandchildren. The Wizard of Oz is one of those rare and beautiful shared pop culture experiences.

You know, I always wondered where the red brick road went...

You know, I always wondered where the red brick road went…

The picture and sound are beautiful, lovingly and affectionately restored. It is easier than ever to see the attention to detail that went into making Oz feel like a magical and wondrous place – from the flowers growing out of the Munchkin shoes through to the exotic animals lurking in the background and at the edge of the shot. Seeing it on a bigger screen than ever before is to see the film fresh, to find something new in a seventy-five year-old classic.

The 3D conversion is effective, favouring depth of shot over pushing forward into the audience. The effect is discernible, without being distracting. With a film like The Wizard of Oz, there is an understandable concern about brightness and saturation in 3D – the colour on this version has been turned up enough that the visuals still pop off the screen. There is inevitably a minor sense of colour loss, but never to the point of distraction. Perhaps a 2D IMAX release would have worked just as well, but that is a minor complaint.

"Gee, Scarecrow, you THINK this is the Emerald City?"

“Gee, Scarecrow, you THINK this is the Emerald City?”

The Wizard of Oz is a beautiful film, and this remastering treats it as such.

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