There is certainly economic value in converting the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz to 3D. If the original version goes into the public domain in 2035 (and that’s a big if), this version will still be protected—because the changes make it a “new work”—until 3008 and Warner Bros. can continue to make money from it. But is there any aesthetic value in a 3D conversion?
The answer is, yes. 3D doesn’t hurt the experience of the film, and underlines its technical strengths. And seen in the restored and converted version on an IMAX screen, it’s a spectacular experience.
It helps that this is prime classical-era filmmaking, which is wholly different than the peripatetic style of today’s Hollywood. The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick made the salient point that there are “only 650 edits in the entire film, compared with over 2,000 in a contemporary blockbuster of comparable length,” making for a less distracting 3D experience. (There was a prime example of a distracting 3D experience shown directly before Oz: the trailer for the Hobbit sequel.)
The assured storytelling, which turned L. Frank Baum’s slightly creepy but compelling fantasy into a heartwarming fable of home and family, still has an undeniable emotional pull. (This is especially true in the sepia-toned Kansas sections directed by an uncredited King Vidor.) The performances, led by the utter guilelessness of Judy Garland’s Dorothy and the vaudevillian charm of Frank Morgan (the Wizard) and Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion), still resonate. And the state-of-1939-art special effects, created by Arnold Gillespie and his crack MGM team, dazzle in all their analog glory.
The latter is probably the biggest surprise: The quality and effectiveness of the matte paintings, the in-camera visual tricks and the clouds of colored smoke are highlighted by the 3D process. The excellence of the makeup on the Scarecrow (Frank Bolger) and Tin Man (Jack Haley) is highlighted, too. And the gleaming, emerald art deco Oz is something to see. In the end, taking a trip down the Yellow Brick Road in IMAX 3D reaffirms what a great achievement Oz really is.