Over the rainbow into IMAX 3D

by Jasper Yeo / Film Columnist • September 25, 2013

In the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum,  when the motley band of travelers enter the Emerald City, they are instructed to wear a pair of green-tinted glasses at all times within the city. The implication, of course, is that the city’s emerald hue is merely another one of the great humbug wizard’s illusions. Life is no more sparkling inside the Emerald City than out of it.

Now, glasses to make the commonplace look extraordinary? That could easily double as a rather cynical assessment of the trend of modern 3D rereleases of popular films. The classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is the most recent of these theatrical post-conversions to fill the IMAX screen. 

Much like other past 3D reissues like The Phantom Menace, Jurassic Park, and Titanic, companies are banking on audiences paying outrageous prices (in this case, $18.40) to see a movie that they love in a theatrical setting again, plus an extra dimension. Depth may vary, of course.

Before home video, revivals weren’t a premium luxury, but the only way to see past films, bar television. After all, many of the classic Disney animated features were originally released at a loss, knowing full well that the money was in re-releases. I would even argue that recent revivals are an interesting experience. 

Watching an oft-seen movie in a dark theater with no distractions can put a movie into a very new context. Heck, some limited 3D rereleases like Dial M for Murder were actually 3D to begin with. Sure, there’s no thrill of a new print of physical film beyond art house theaters, but 3D can freshen the experience when used smartly. 

Thankfully, the third dimension brings something to the table in The Wizard of Oz: an actual added sense of depth. It’s unusual that a movie this old would get the 3D treatment, but this is actually a benefit. Classic-era movies often have much slower camerawork and deeper focus than modern works. These two things are where 3D actually allows an audience to better “inhabit” the on-camera space. 

Another big surprise was the conversion of the flat matte paintings in the background, such as the fanciful crags surrounding the Wicked Witch’s castle. They have always contributed to Oz’s sense of whimsy, but now many have been separated into multiple fields of depth. It has the benefits of something like modern green-screen, with its overbearing busyness replaced with a hand-painted charm. 

In comparison, the many disorienting and in-your-face 3D effects in Sam Raimi’s recent Oz: the Great and Powerful fail to leave too much of an impression.

All that said, I found that The Wizard of Oz as a movie itself remains great. Elements that I used to think were dated—the abundance of matte paintings and miniatures—now are turned to its advantage in creating an extra dimension with actual dimension. The changes aren’t all positive: the vibrant Technicolor is muted through the glasses, and the price tag is hard to recommend to the cash-strapped college student. Nevertheless, while the shift between 2D to 3D certainly isn’t like Oz’s own doorway leap from sepia to color, The Wizard of Oz in IMAX proves that rereleases can still indeed surprise us.