"THE WIZARD OF OZ" — ★★★★— Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Billie Burke, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan; PG (some scary moments); in general release
The happiest 15 minutes in the history of cinema really pop off the screen in the new 3-D IMAX conversion of "The Wizard of Oz." Those minutes, coming as Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) steps into the Technicolor wonder of the Merry Olde Land of Oz, are as giddy, goofy and gloriously kitschy as ever — singing and dancing dwarfs, silly trilling Broadway star Billie Burke (as Glenda, the Good Witch), gorgeous primary colors in every pixel of the frame.
And thanks to 3-D and digitally cleaned-up copies of the film, the details are nothing short of stunning, even if the depth of field isn't improved much from when Victor Fleming pointed the camera at those sets 75 years ago. The sheen on the fake plants shimmers, the freckles show beneath Garland's ruby-red made-up cheeks and the stitches stand out in the burlap face of Scarecrow Ray Bolger.
Garland's wise-beyond-her-years crooning, full of longing in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"; Frank Morgan's tour de force supporting work (five different roles) as Professor Marvel, the Wizard and others; Bolger's rubber-legged genius — the virtues of this masterpiece are as obvious as ever.
And those songs by Harold Arlen and "Yip" Harburg — even the filler tunes are wickedly funny.
"You've killed her so completely that we thank you very sweetly."
Take that, Wicked Witches.
All these decades later and it's still a wonder how this "children's classic" ever caught on with kids. That horrid witch (Margaret Hamilton), the nightmarish tornado effect, those alarming Flying Monkeys — and what child was going to focus on Judy as Dorothy as long as Toto, too, was on the screen with her?
The improved texture was reason enough to convert this to 3-D. Even on IMAX screens, the original aspect ratio hasn't been monkeyed with, the original sepia-toned opening and closing are intact and the best effects have nothing to do with 3-D. The Wicked Witch's gnarled green hands seem to poke through the screen and the Haunted Forest attack by the monkeys gains something by the conversion.
The witch-arrivals, in clouds of red smoke, are still primitive (you can see the trap door), and the whole thing looks and sounds like a product of its era. But with "The Wizard of Oz," the passing of the years merely adds to its charm. And the 3-D glasses do a grand job of hiding from the kids your tears of sentimental joy at seeing the movies' greatest generation-to-generation tradition, revived, renewed and back on the big screen — where it belongs — for a limited run.
"The Wizard of Oz" is rated PG for some scary moments; running time: 101 minutes.