The Wizard of Oz is returning to theaters this weekend in IMAX 3D. If you follow movie or industry news at all, this probably doesn't come as surprise and you most likely already have an opinion on the matter. And like any good film discussion, it's probably a passionate opinion. Nothing gets film fans to butt heads quite as hard as 3D and one the few things that comes close is the mere concept of anyone tampering with a classic. It raises a big question: should we be converting the classics into 3D?
Rereleasing older films in 3D isn't new. In the past year, we've seen both Titanic and Jurassic Park return to cinemas with a third dimension added and both were moderately successful (if a little dim on-screen). The Wizard of Oz, though, isn't a beloved blockbuster from the '90s. It's one of the most beloved films ever made and has stood the test of time for over 70 years. Films made in the past 20 years lend themselves to 3D because they're big, loud spectacles -- The Wizard of Oz comes from a much different time, where spectacles were quieter and simpler. It's a film whose biggest gimmick is that it's in color. The rest is just magic.
There's no denying the film's status as an untouchable masterpiece, which is why it's easy to see its manhandling and r-release would upset and irk film fans. The thought of tampering with a classic film, of modern hands trying to make something "better," recalls the dark days of black-and-white films being colorized. Cinema dodged that bullet and ever since, artists and fans alike have fought to preserve cinema, to keep it untouched and unblemished and safe from those that would exploit misuse it. For some, the thought of a studio postconverting The Wizard of Oz into 3D reeks of greed, of someone trying to make something that's been accessible for three quarters of century fresher through unnecessary tampering. In many ways, it all boils down to cinephile pride: "Why does this classic need a 3D update? It's never needed it before!"
And you know what? That's a viewpoint that's reasonable, understandable and completely ignoring the good that can come from seminal classics making their way back into theaters.
As great as home theaters are these days, the best movies deserve to be seen on the big screen. Period. They deserve to be seen with a big, enthusiastic crowd in a room with no distractions, where the sound and music are as loud as possible. For film fans who live in certain cities, repertory screenings are common, but for many people, anything made more than a year ago is limited to your DVD shelf or Netflix. The chance to catch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen is, for many people, an important experience. Spoiled cinephiles in major cities with a strong film community may scoff at masterpieces being rereleased in 3D, but for the guy who wants to introduce his kids to one of the best family movies of all time, this is a big deal. The 3D may not be necessary to enjoy the film, but unlike colorization, it doesn't fundamentally change the way the film is watched. Heck, the 3D conversion is the selling point that's absolutely necessary to get The Wizard of Oz back on the big screen in the first place. It's NEW and Hollywood only really knows how to sell NEW.
It's easy to have a strong opinion on this, but it's also easy to waffle between both viewpoints, seeing both sides of the argument and playing a sort of half-assed devil's advocate. Is it a cop-out to say that postconverting the classics into 3D is both a good thing and a bad thing? Maybe. Probably. Yeah. The thought of The Wizard of Oz's amazing color palette dimmed by 3D is enough to give a film buff a headache, but the thought of seeing the film on-screen the size of a building is amazing. The thought of being able to see some seminal classics return to hundreds (and maybe thousands of theaters) is a reason to rejoice, but it creates a few nightmare scenarios since 3D postconversion is still, by and large, a nightmare.
Is 3D something that's worth putting up with to enjoy some of the best films of all time? More specifically, is putting up with 3D worth it if it means getting to see The Wizard of Oz in a real theater? It's a shame that this is a question without an easy, cut-and-dry answer. Right now, the only way to address the question poised by the headline of this post is to shrug and mutter "Maybe?"
Anyway, I'll see you in 2014 when Casablanca gets the IMAX 3D treatment. I, for one, am quite looking forward to Humphrey Bogart's fedora leaping out of the screen.
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