There's really no improving "The Wizard of Oz," as a newly restored version of MGM's 1939 classic proves. It's been digitally remastered, magnified to IMAX proportions and painstakingly converted to 3-D. Only some of these changes are welcome, but they prove that there's no destroying this enduringly magical movie, either.
What's the occasion for this one-week re-release? It precedes a five-disc home-video package, due Oct. 1, which Warner Bros. is calling the 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition. Do the math and you'll get a slightly different anniversary, but whatever. Any reason to show your children "The Wizard of Oz" on a big screen seems like a good one.
In this spiffed-up version of Victor Fleming's adaptation of the L. Frank Baum tale, new details emerge and familiar ones are enhanced. Judy Garland, as Dorothy Gale, looks heartbreakingly young thanks to a light dusting of freckles now visible under her studio-system makeup. The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) is slightly tattier, the Tin Man (Jack Haley) drips with oil -- did you know that can was actually full? -- and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr, still stealing every scene) is cuddlier than ever. The dark green pallor of the Wicked Witch looks almost natural-born, though that's to the credit of Margaret Hamilton's vicious, delicious performance.
High-resolution technology means the Technicolor palette really pops, but without losing the dreamy, soft-grain feel of old-fashioned celluloid. The sound is clean and clear, too. As for the 3-D, that's a matter of opinion. The MPAA apparently decided that this "Wizard" is scary enough for a PG rating, up from the traditional G. I'd say that the 3-D effects, while pristine and clearly labor-intensive (the poppy field alone must have taken weeks), add nothing to the action and only further flatten the painted backdrops of Oz.
But that's all right. Glasses or no glasses, 75th anniversary or 74th, "The Wizard of Oz" remains a wondrous experience.
PLOT A Kansas twister whisks a young farm girl to a magical land.
CAST Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Terry (as Toto)
BOTTOM LINE The 3-D adds little, but newly visible details and dazzling color make this restored version of the 1939 classic worth the hefty ticket price -- up to $19