The famous brick road actually glows in lemon yellow. The resplendent Munchkinland truly looks somewhere over the rainbow, and the Emerald City couldn't appear more magical.
When "The Wizard of Oz" gets its big-screen re-release on Nov. 6, the 1939 film will look and sound better than ever. So now you'll be able to see clearly the freckles on Judy Garland's face and the auburn tint in her hair.
This time they--Warner Bros. and Technicolor--did it right, learning from last summer's "Gone With the Wind" debacle with its blurry, color-impaired images and inconsistent sound presentation. ("GWTW" was re-released by New Line.)
The stakes are high; "Oz" is, after all, arguably the most beloved film of all time. Now that Warners has acquired the MGM library from Ted Turner, "Oz" is being treated like a special theatrical event on the magnitude of Disney's animated reissues; it will play on 1,835 screens instead of the usual limited run for re-releases.
It's a bold strategy considering that "Oz" is perhaps the most widely seen film of all time. It has aired on network television every year since the mid-1950s. According to Aljean Harmetz, author of "The Making of the Wizard of Oz" (to be reprinted next month by Hyperion), the landmark fantasy has earned approximately $300 million in its nearly 60-year history, including $225 million in home video sales over the last 10 years. (By comparison, its $5.4 million in theatrical rentals seems meager, until adjusted for inflation, which makes it a much more impressive $219 million.)
"It's an amazing gamble for Warners," Harmetz says. "But then 'Oz' is an amazing success story. Think of all the movies from all the decades. This movie still has a hold on our imagination."
Which is why Warners distribution President Barry Reardon believes it's worth the gamble: "The response to a recent test screening in Thousand Oaks reaffirmed what I've always believed: People are willing to see 'Oz' in a theater."
"There definitely is a curiosity out there," says one major movie exhibitor. To be a success, Reardon said, the film needs to do at least $25 million at the box office.
Even though Christmas was initially perceived as the ideal time to open, Reardon changed his mind when the holiday jockeying for family fare became fierce. There are five competing films opening between Dec. 18 and Christmas Day, including DreamWorks' much anticipated "Prince of Egypt" and Warners' own "Jack Frost."
"We now think pre-Thanksgiving gives us our best window," Reardon adds. "We want to do this right and not get lost in the shuffle."
Doing "Oz" right also means achieving the best possible quality--even under tighter deadline pressure. Not surprisingly, Technicolor, still smarting after "Gone With the Wind," requested greater latitude and control. The studio complied, not wanting to repeat the same mistakes as New Line, the Turner-controlled subsidiary of Time Warner.
So Technicolor went back to the original three-strip black-and-white nitrate camera negatives and made all the necessary fixes and modifications before printing, rather than repeating the Byzantine mixture of processes that corrupted and distorted "GWTW."
Technicolor President Ron Jarvis says there's no substitute for going back to the original.
"It's incredible what we've been able to extract from the negatives," he says. "And with improved dyes and [film] stocks, we can make 'Oz' look like it's never looked before. I wish we could've done 'Gone With the Wind' this way. If they'll let me, I'd still like to go back and do it right.
"Of course, getting here has required some very meticulous registration correction that only we can do because we have the records," Jarvis adds. "Those negatives have to be lined up just right, shot by shot. There was misregistration in the camera and misregistration due to shrinkage over the years. It won't be perfect. But we can correct most of it. . . . "
Almost the only complaint about this ultimate "Oz" is that there's a bit too much contrast in the brighter scenes. Even so, the splashy use of color looks like eye candy. For example, those legendary ruby slippers sparkle and jump off the screen as never before.
Unfortunately, few moviegoers will be seeing "Oz" in its original Technicolor glory or in its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. That's because of the accelerated release schedule and extremely large print order, as well as the fact that most multiplexes don't want to be bothered renting special lenses or making correct aperture plates.
As a result, Technicolor was asked to make two different sets of prints: about 1,500 standard color positives for conventional multiplexes and about 50 superior dye transfers for special theaters (including the Mann Chinese in Hollywood), recalling the old road-show engagements of the '50s and '60s.