There’s something about certain classic movies that stick in our minds as having a particular aesthetic. “The Wizard of Oz” has the unusual distinction of having a longer line of generations who saw it on TV than those who saw it in theaters. In fact, few still live who can remember seeing the film in a theater during its premiere year.
It’s the generations who grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz” annually on TV that remember it in a specific way not far removed from the original theatrical presentation. Considering the original 4:3 aspect ratio was standard in 1939, seeing it on TV didn’t take away any visual information. That’s a far contrast to those who grew up watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” scrunched onto local TV station screens in the 1970s and 80s, then seeing it later in its 70mm glory in a theater or Blu-ray.
The dividing line between the “Oz” TV generations is in those seeing it all in black and white (during the 1950s and ’60s) with those seeing the color segments intact from the 1970s to 1990s. Additional unique impressions of how the film was assimilated in childhood were created that way. And it might give concern when those aging viewers hear about how Warner Brothers is taking one of their most lucrative film classics to every possible digital frontier.
Mind you, when “Oz” came out on Blu-ray several years ago in a lavish 70th anniversary box set, it looked stunning. However, nobody would have entertained the thought that Warner would have the guts to release it in 3D to keep up with the Real D craze. Even more so, it’s nearly impossible to think a film from 1939 would look good in the IMAX format.
The film will be in IMAX 3D later this year as part of an emerging thought that viewing cherished art through new lenses creates new aesthetic experiences. But is it the equivalent of taking a Van Gogh painting and twisting its shape from what viewers remember? It ultimately depends on whether certain pieces of art shaped our souls or were just passive experiences.
While paintings might be enhanced in 3D or enlarged format, “The Wizard of Oz” shaped generational thinking much more than society realizes. It still conjures certain feelings that kids had in the same way watching the old Peanuts TV specials still do. I’ve argued, though, that when the Peanuts specials moved to ABC in 2000, they lost a little of their aesthetic that was so familiar being on CBS.
Most of us want our childhood experiences to be preserved just as we remember them without nuanced disturbances. All those millions of people who grew up with “The Wizard of Oz” on TV likely include things that were going on in the periphery with their family as part of the remembered experience. Seeing the film in 3D or the enlarged IMAX format might feel more like a nightmare rather than a sense of discovery or fun.
Let’s also remember that film grain from 1939 is nearly impossible to remove digitally. Said grain may be more apparent in 3D as well as IMAX. Regardless, it likely won’t stop some fans from satiating their curiosity.
For others, “The Wizard of Oz” will likely always be a product of TV. There, it can now look pristine in 1080p as one half regret of not having that technology available 40 years ago in our living rooms.