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The Wizard of Oz

1939 | 103 min | G | 1.37:1

The Wizard of Oz


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Theatrical release date

 25 August, 1939

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from The Wizard of Oz Blu-ray

The Wizard of Oz Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 19, 2013

1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” is a classic, adored by millions who grew up with the picture during its days as a network television perennial, where annual holiday showings bestowed the movie with its status as an event. These days, the feature is widely accessible on home video and cable, allowing the effort to be passed down to younger generations, freshening appeal. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” (and to promote a new selection of DVD and Blu-ray releases), the work has been handed an IMAX 3D makeover, updating the screen adventure to the standards of a modern spectacle. There’s certainly no need for this treatment, but for those interested in an alternate look at the film, the overhaul is tasteful and engaging.

Kansas teenager Dorothy (Judy Garland) is having a rough day, with town shrew Almira (Margaret Hamilton) threatening to destroy Dorothy’s pet dog Toto for misbehavior. Trying to share her woe with her overworked farming family, including Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin), the young girl’s pleas are ignored, inspiring an idea to run away from home. Unfortunately, Dorothy’s liberation and eventual reconsideration is threatened by a tornado tearing through the land. Knocked unconscious, Dorothy wakes up in the magical land of Oz, branded a hero for her accidental murder of a vile witch, enraging the flattened oppressor’s sister, The Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton). Guided by Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke), Dorothy is off to explore her options at The Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz might provide passage back to Kansas. Along the way, the frightened child partners up with brainless Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), heartless Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), with the foursome fighting the Wicked Witch’s constant threats as they march along the Yellow Brick Road.

“The Wizard of Oz” is such an easy sit, a film buoyed by a remarkable sense of invention, turning L. Frank Baum’s source material into an exhaustively cinematic experience that features extraordinary technical credits. On television, it’s comfort food, allowing children to find the speed of the intermittently macabre work without feeling overwhelmed. However, “Oz” belongs on the big screen, permitting fans the opportunity to study screen elements, appreciating the craftsmanship up close, where every detail is exposed in full. Make-up is a particular highlight, finding efforts to turn Lahr, Bolger, and Haley into their fantasyland characters jaw-dropping, in many cases besting prosthetic work commonly viewed today. It’s difficult to take eyes off the sophistication of such labor, a perfection that extends to almost every creative endeavor, with art direction, costuming, and special effects (the tornado still convinces) contributing to the visual whirlwind of the movie -- the Technicolor transformation also retaining its intended wash of awe.

It’s impossible to disagree with anything “The Wizard of Oz” offers, with Garland’s broad work as Dorothy even managing to find an appropriate place in the picture. All “golly gees” and pigtails, Garland (a teenager herself at the time) is the core of juvenile innocence the feature requires to work, bringing an effortless sense of wonder that enlivens her committed co-stars, raising their game. The joyful atmosphere extends to the songs, generating irresistible rhythm to ease audiences around the odd sights of Oz, keeping unnerving munchkins, creatures, and guardian neglect palatable. Also popping on the big screen is the writing’s bittersweet quality, feeling the numerous acts of aching separation that fatigue Dorothy’s journey through Kansas and Oz. It’s a traumatic experience for the girl, with added menace from the Wicked Witch, who seems particularly crazed when viewed up close.

Purists will likely scoff at a 3D reworking of the picture, but it’s a low-key transformation. The extra dimension pays off with backgrounds that show off the expanse of Kansas and Oz, generating a pleasing depth that supports the fantasy, awakening studio construction. The film looks fuller in 3D but not necessarily natural, making this reissue a curiosity that’s worth a look, but it’s not a newly definitive take on the legendary work. Of course, any opportunity to see “The Wizard of Oz” at a movie theater is worth the trip, especially for anyone who’s only viewed the classic at home. It’s a feature built for bigness, with its immersive qualities still potent after all these years. The IMAX 3D treatment is merely a fun exhibition detour.

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke
Director: Victor Fleming

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