The happiest fifteen minutes in the history of cinema really pop off the screen in the new 3D IMAX conversion of “The Wizard of Oz.” Those minutes, coming as Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) steps into the Technicolor wonder of the Merry Olde Land of Oz, are as giddy, goofy and gloriously kitschy as ever — singing and dancing dwarves, silly trilling Broadway star Billie Burke (as Glenda, the Good Witch).
And thanks to 3D and digitally cleaned-up copies of the film, the details are nothing short of stunning, even if the depth of field isn’t improved much from when Victor Fleming pointed the camera at those sets 75 years ago. The sheen on the fake plants shimmers, the freckles show beneath Garland’s ruby-red made-up cheeks and the stitches stand out in the burlap face of Scarecrow Ray Bolger.
Garland’s wise-beyond-her-years crooning, full of longing in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Frank Morgan’s tour de force supporting work (five different roles) as Professor Marvel, the Wizard and others, Bolger’s rubber-legged genuis — the virtues of this masterpiece are as obvious as ever.
And those songs by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg! Even the filler tunes are wickedly funny.
“You’ve killed her so completely that we thank you very sweetly.”
Take that, Wicked Witches.
All these decades later and it’s still a wonder how this “children’s classic” ever caught on with kids. That horrid witch (Margaret Hamilton), that nightmarish tornado effect, those alarming Flying Monkeys — and what child was going to focus on Judy as Dorothy as long as Toto, too, was on the screen with her?
The improved texture was reason enough to convert this to 3D. Even on IMAX screens, the original aspect ratio hasn’t been monkeyed with, the original sepia-toned opening and closing is intact and the best effects have nothing to do with 3D. The Wicked Witch’s gnarled green hands seem to poke through the screen and the Haunted Forest attack by the monkeys gains something by the conversion.
The witch-arrivals, in clouds of red smoke, are still primitive (you can see the trap door), and the whole thing looks and sounds like a product of its era. But with “The Wizard of Oz,” the passing of the years merely adds to its charm. Since most of us have only experienced it as a pre-HDTV small screen experience, this bigger-than-ever re-release comes at the perfect time.
And the 3D glasses do a grand job of hiding from the kids your tears of sentimental joy at seeing the greatest generation-to-generation tradition, revived, renewed and back on the big screen — where it belongs — for a limited run.
MPAA Rating: PG for some scary moments
Cast: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Billie Burke, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan.
Credits: Directed by Victor Fleming, based on the L. Frank Baum book. An MGM release
Running time: 1:41