HDD's First Look: 'The Wizard of Oz' in IMAX 3D

Posted Wed Sep 18, 2013 at 08:45 AM PDT by
'The Wizard of Oz' IMAX 3D poster

by Michael S. Palmer

Monday, HDD scored an invite to see the new 'The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D' conversion, which will debut theatrically on 300 IMAX screens this Friday, September 20th, and run for one week only. Later, on October 1st, 'Oz' will make its Blu-ray 3D debut in a 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition as well as a two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + HD Ultraviolet edition. So look for those reviews shortly!

3D Conversion and IMAX 3D

I know some of our readers loathe 3D and/or 3D conversion. You want your cinema as pure as possible, with the filmmakers' artistic intentions held up above corporate profit. Hell, 3D doesn't even work for some of you and others have been disappointed by sloppy stereo conversions. I totally hear you.

For me, I approach 3D on a film-by-film basis and don't really care whether or not it's native-3D or a conversion. First, conversions such as 'Titanic - 3D' and 'The Lion King - 3D' really impressed, so it can be done right. Second, and much more important, there's a very important thing to remember about 3D:

There are a lot more conversions than you think.

Every "native-3D" movie has converted material in it. Every single one. Why? Because shooting in 3D is infinitely more complex than 2D and if there are any imperfections, a shot won't work and you have to fix it. Another great example is Michael Bay on 'Transformers Dark of the Moon'. He didn't like how digital cameras made his actors look in extreme closeups, so he shot them on 35mm and had them converted.

To be clear, I'm definitely pro shooting in native 3D because, when done right, filmmakers like Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese really enhance the medium. But I don't think we should ever close our minds to the possibility of loving a film (or film format) because someone did a bad job previously, and because it's not as clear cut what is actually been converted. Then again, once you've been burned, I can understand not wanting to spend extra money on something you don't enjoy.

For 'The Wizard of Oz', Warner Bros. Home Entertainment went back to the original negatives to do an 8K scan. It's the same team behind the wonderful 70th Anniversary restoration, but I'm not sure if they did new scans or used the 2009 scans. Either way, the film was "cleaned up" -- removing scratches, etc. -- and given to a company called Prime Focus to do the 3D conversion. Prime Focus has done stereo conversion work on 'Gravity' (only trailers so far, but WOW!), 'World War Z', 'The Great Gatsby', 'Transformers Dark of the Moon', and many others. Prime Focus also does 2D and 3D visual effects work.

After layering shots to put them in "proper 3D space," 3D elements returned to Warners for color correction in 3D. This entire 3D conversion process took about 16 months.

'Oz' then went through IMAX's DMR process, where hundreds of people "optimized and honed [the film], shot-by-shot, to bring out all of the detail and reduce the noise." The IMAX team also took Oz's current 5.1 mix (which, if you recall, was created in 2005, but released in lossless Dolby TrueHD sound for the first time in 2009), and tweaked the audio for IMAX's larger dynamic range and proprietary surround format.

According to provided press materials, 'The Wizard of Oz' is the oldest film to ever be converted to 3D or IMAX 3D.

The TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX

Before I jump into my personal reactions to the conversion and IMAX 3D experience, I have to first talk about where I saw the film. Every IMAX auditorium is a little different. Some were first created for Science Museums that ran IMAX 15-perf 70mm film. Newer auditoriums are either native builds or retrofited Digital IMAX cinemas, which use dual 2K projectors for both 2D and 3D films and do not feature the astounding tall screens of the original IMAX cinemas.

For this screening, which came one day after the film's IMAX 3D premiere, we saw 'The Wizard of Oz' at the legendary Chinese Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. The best part? 'Oz' originally premiered in this very same auditorium on August 15, 1939.

The Chinese Theatre -- now officially called the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX -- was recently overhauled and converted to a digital IMAX cinema. It is now the largest IMAX in the world in terms of seating capacity (932 seats), and features the third largest IMAX screen in North America (94 feet wide, 46 feet tall).

Here's a time-lapse video of the cinema's restoration:

Pretty cool, right? No photograph or video can really do this historic landmark justice. The carvings and sculptures and paintings on the walls and ceilings are truly remarkable. If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles, try to see a movie here and come early so you can walk around, look up, and simply appreciate the artistry.

As you can see in the video above, crews used a tent to protect the building's unique architecture -- because the Chinese is a historical landmark, the new owners were legally bound to preserve it. Instead of building UP, they dug down to create stadium seating where the auditorium's most drastic changes are noticeable. And while it's not the same curtain as before, this is the only IMAX cinema where a curtain will open and close with every screening.

Though they were not used for this film because 'Oz' retains its original 1.37:1 aspect ration and was projected floor-to-ceiling, I could see some horizontal masking that will presumably be used for widescreen IMAX movies. Also, I don't believe the image took up the entire screen's width. It certainly went to the edge of the curtains, but I think the curtains could open a little bit more.

Regardless, 'Oz' was HUGE from my position in the last row of the front seating section (there are now two -- the front is more stadium style, the rear second wider and with less slope). And, I'm very happy to say this is the very first Digital IMAX where I didn't suffer from the "screen door effect" -- aka didn't see a single pixel. Hazzah!

My main complaint is the front section's center aisle. Not only does this, in my opinion at least, delete what could be some of the best seats -- a problem with the previous Chinese as well -- but the aisle's safety lighting was bright enough to bounce off the lower part of the screen. Another issue may be the back section's seats. It's definitely a big screen no matter where you sit, but I doubt for those people on the edges that it will "feel" like they're at a larger-than-life IMAX.

'The Wizard of Oz - IMAX 3D'

'Oz' -- no hyperbole here -- looks so absolutely gorgeous, you'd almost think it is native 3D. Sure, there are couple flaws we can nitpick -- and we will in a moment -- but overall, the film is bright and clear and colorful and, well, 'Oz'... the same movie that millions have loved and watched and re-watched over the last seventy-plus years. There's also something to be said about the film's editing and how camerawork and shot-length are inherently more receptive to a 3D conversion than a modern blockbuster like 'Star Trek Into Darkness'.

What surprised me most was how much detail the film showed on the big screen. If you're only experience with 'Oz' is on Blu-ray or an old revival print from years ago, there's so much more to see and feel by checking out one of these IMAX 3D screenings. The tornado sequence is spectacular. The models and visual effects look great, and for the first time ever, I actually felt nervous despite knowing exactly what happens.

Then look at the yellow brick road and count a few bricks. Or check out all the makeup effects. Sometimes, I think, you see a little too much, but the Scarecrow's burlap facial textures are incredible. Toto's fur looks good too and Dorothy has the most amazing little curls in her hair. And, also for the first time I can remember, the flying monkey models are truly formidable as they approach and descend out of the sky. You can see each one so, so clearly. Heck, the restoration team even managed to remove a huge scratch from the opening titles (that you can see in the current Blu-ray).

In terms of the 3D, the movie opens with the MGM logo, along with all of the opening titles, floating right off the screen. That, and a few characters leaning forward, are the only "pop out" style 3D effects. Everything else extends behind the screen, creating that window into another world effect that's been so prominent in the modern 3D era.

My favorite 3D effect was the matte paintings, which extend the backgrounds of nearly every location in the movie. When you watch 'Oz' in 2D, you can definitely tell that, in a few moments, if the actors took a step or two further away from the camera, they'd smash into the edge of a soundstage. In 3D, the conversion extends the paintings too so the entire world of Oz feels a little more deep and epic.

Despite looking terrific, there are a few nitpicks we should discuss. I think purists are going to miss the amount of film grain that's been scrubbed away. Definitely less grain than the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray, which I am watching as I write this. I would also say, while most of the film is razor sharp -- more sharp than the Blu -- some of the faces seem artificially soft too (but let's be cautious about overreacting here because some shots are either intentionally or accidentally soft).

The 3D itself has a few minor blemishes. Namely, there are one or two shots where a character's arm that is reaching out of the screen (towards the audience), hits the side of the frame, ruining the 3D effect. You can see this as Dorothy sings with Glenda in Munchkinland. Next, there are few shots where the 3D layers don't quite mesh with the matte paintings. For example, in the Poppy Field, as the camera pans to the left, some of the poppies are going left, and the others are going right. It's an odd sensation, but one most people will miss. And finally, dissolves are a little distracting -- this seems to be a result of two shots with opposing 3D depths come together. For a moment, it's harder to know where you should be looking.

Should You See 'Oz' in IMAX 3D?

It's important to note I have only seen the IMAX 3D version, which might look different than the forthcoming Blu-ray 3D release because the IMAX 3D prints received an extra layer of the DMR processing.

That being said, I was shocked by how natural the film looked in 3D. Having re-watched the entire film while writing, I'm reminded how important it is to see films like this on the big screen. With IMAX 3D, everything is crisp, clear, colorful and the speakers are -- sadly -- much better than my home system. I believe, overall, the positives far out way the negatives, which were all pretty minor to my eyes. I raise them here because you're all informed viewers who have exacting quality standards.

'The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D' is definitely recommended for anyone near an IMAX screen (assuming you don't hate 3D). And, if you're a Los Angeles area film buff and want to see 'Oz' in the very same theatre where it original premiered, the TCL Chinese Theatre Oz screenings are a must-see event for locals and those lucky enough to be visiting. After 'Oz' concludes its weeklong run, the Chinese Theatre will be showing 'Metallica: Through the Never', followed by 'Gravity'.

Thanks again to Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for arranging this advanced press screening.

To our HDD readers, hit up the forum below to let us know if you're planning to check out 'Oz IMAX 3D', pick up any of the new Blu-ray 3D editions, or -- after seeing either version -- what you thought of the conversion. It'll be great to hear about your reactions too.

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