'Wizard of Oz' returns to theaters in IMAX 3-D

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Moviegoers first surrendered to Dorothy -- and her little dog, too -- in 1939.

Television viewers who invested in color sets in the 1960s and their lucky children and grandchildren never tired of the moment when the Gale farmhouse was swept into a cyclone in black and white and landed with a thud in color-saturated Munchkinland.

Now, "The Wizard of Oz" (4 stars, PG for some scary moments) is back in select theaters in IMAX 3-D for a week, and while it's not exactly "Avatar" or another movie made for that format, it's the rare chance to see a classic on the big screen, perhaps for the first time.

After all, "Oz" opened at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Aug. 15, 1939, returned to theaters in 1949 and 1955 and made its network premiere on CBS in 1956. Nearly 45 million people saw that initial telecast, and the movie has been on broadcast or cable TV in some fashion ever since.

If you're like most viewers, you probably don't always watch from beginning to end or without commercials, which add another hour to the 103-minute running time.

The IMAX 3-D allows moviegoers to see how rudimentary some of the effects look now, as when Glinda arrives in a pink bubble or the Wicked Witch or a squadron of flying monkeys take to the skies.

But you know what? Most of it holds up beautifully, the 3-D adds some depth to the opening farmland scenes or the meadows of poppies on the road to Oz, and it's a joy to hear those well-known songs performed by a teenage Judy Garland and piped through the theater sound system.

As ever, "Over the Rainbow" is alive with yearning, optimism and dreamy hope. The movie is an endless source of iconic songs and symbols, oft-quoted lines, a timeless message about how there's no place like home and Halloween costume inspiration.

Adults who flinched at the sight of Margaret Hamilton's Miss Gulch or green-complected Wicked Witch may shiver when they hear her cackle or signature music and see just how large her face is on the screen.

Years later, she would place fourth on an American Film Institute list of the greatest movie villains, behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates and Darth Vader. The actress also, at the invitation of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," appeared on the show to let children know her role was a pretend one.

"Wizard of Oz" opens today in 3-D IMAX at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront and Cinemark at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills near Tarentum. Be advised that, as always, you must wear the glasses throughout and the tickets will cost more than usual

The one-week run is part of a larger campaign to celebrate the movie's 75th year with a limited and numbered five-disc set and other less elaborate editions arriving Oct. 1 and limited edition "Wizard of Oz" toys in McDonald's Happy Meals.

A long list of promotional partners will mean Oz-themed confections on "Cupcake Wars," commemorative collections on QVC, hang tags on 2.5 million bunches of asparagus and plans for a hot air balloon and balloon heads in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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