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.
When “The Wizard of Oz” was made, in 1938 and 1939, my
mother worked in the wardrobe department at M-G-M. Because I was too young to understand its
value, I read to tatters the copy of L. Frank Baum’s book signed by Judy
Garland, the lion, the scarecrow, the tin man, the wicked witch and the wizard
that was my Christmas present.
If there’s “No Place Like Home,” there is also no movie
quite like “The Wizard of Oz,” and Warner Bros. is celebrating its 75th
anniversary with hundreds of things to buy — jewelry, Lullaby League tutus for
little girls and Dorothy thigh high dresses for their older sisters,
stationary, candy bars, nail polish, toys, fruit juice and slot machines — in
addition to tickets to the IMAX 3-D version that will show in theatres for one
week beginning Friday, September 20, and the 3-D Collectors’ Edition 5 disc DVD/Blu-Ray with a suggested retail price of
$105.43 that will be for sale on October 1. Each of the characters in McDonald’s Happy Meals will have its own piece
of the Yellow Brick Road to stand on, and 2.5 million bunches of asparagus will be decorated with OZ hang tags.
So are the 16 months of work by more than 1000 people and
the thousands of hours and, most probably, millions of dollars spent converting
the movie to 3-D worth it?
For me, the Kansas sequence was exceptionally enhanced. Anyone who has ever tried to take a picture
of a Cairn terrier knows that the result is a black blob. Lifting his paw and his eyes visible as he
gazed at Dorothy, Toto was much more a character instead of an appendage.
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
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.