The Sad Inevitability of 'The Wizard of Oz' in 3D
By Jerry Portwood
I still remember being a young boy in north Texas and my mom calling us in to watch The Wizard of Oz on TV. It was a family ritual—cuddling up near our big, wood-paneled console TV, making popcorn, singing along—that seemed to occur every March although, being a kid, I didn't really keep a calendar. Around this time my little sister and I would play "tornado" (it was Texas after all) near the wheat field behind our flimsy mobile home, and spin around until we got dizzy, imagining ourselves as Dorothy. It seemed possible we could be carried over the rainbow, but would we ever really want to leave Oz and want to return to dreary, black-and-white reality?
This was in the '80s, nearly 50 years after the film was originally released, yet it held an intense power over us—and still does. Maybe that's why it came as a shock to read that Warner Bros. would be rereleasing the treasured film in 3D for one week, starting Sept. 20, only in IMAX theaters. Although Greg Foster, president of filmed entertainment for IMAX, told the LA Times, “This isn’t about making a quick buck. These are very important brands," I know it's marketing and it's about the bottom line. And actually, he may be right when he says, “My hope is that they [audiences] say, ‘This is the way I imagined it to be seen,'" since I can imagine that 1938 audiences would have flipped if they could have seen the Technicolor masterpiece in 3D.
For this celebration of the movie’s 75th anniversary, however, it does feel like it's tampering with my childhood. In a similar vein as George Lucas mucking around with the first Star Wars films (yes, I'll never forgive him) that were also essential to our collective pop culture memories. I still haven't been able to face the updated version of Oz the Great and Powerful, although I'm sure it's fun enough. And this isn't just the seduction of nostalgia. In fact, although I loved the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and still do), I also appreciated and enjoyed the updated version starring Johnny Depp, which was the first version that my boyfriend had ever seen and loved (believe me, we gave him a hard time about it).
William Stillman, coauthor of the upcoming The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion has said that the 3D version of the film is a "necessity" for it to stay relevant for future generations. That's a depressing, but probably true, summation, even if film historian Scott Essman said that the 3D version of the classic is similar to colorizing black-and-white films. “The way it was originally made is the way it was meant to be seen,” Essman told the LA Times. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should." But I do begin to doubt the veracity of Essman's statement. I mean, if boys and girls have been enjoying the film for 75 years in its original state, does a fetishistic 3D version really make it better for anyone? Or just for the bottom inevitable marketing bonanza.