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The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.

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Tom Shales


December 2006 Archives

A Wonderful 'Wizard of Oz'

December 13, 2006 9:06 PM

Look, the Emerald City is closer and prettier than ever!

Certainly prettier, if not precisely closer. Viewers who tuned in that warhorse-of-a-different color, “The Wizard of Oz,” on TNT Monday night (Dec. 11), may not have known it but they were witnessing only the second telecast in history of the digitally restored and remastered version of the classic via high-definition video—though only, of course, if they were watching it on a hi-def set and getting a hi-def signal from their cable or satellite system.

Confused? Who wouldn’t be? Even spokespeople for Turner Broadcasting were confused when I asked them about it.

I’d gotten a gorgeous gander at the incredible Technicolor images while channel-surfing Monday night. An old “Oz” watcher from way back, I knew not only that I wasn’t in Kansas any more, I wasn’t even in Oz any more—not the “Oz” I had grown up watching on TV. When annual telecasts, then on CBS, began in the ‘50s and—incredible as it seems—the first few airings were in black-and-white only, because CBS was still sulking that its color-TV system had lost out as the industry standard to RCA-NBC’s.

People who were kids back then have told me they watched “Oz” annually in black-and-white, and thus the big moment when Dorothy opens the farm-house door and the film switches from black-and-white to Technicolor was completely lost on them.

(Many years ago, when Ted Turner was on his big colorizing binge, I made up this joke, since stolen by others: Since Turner had threatened to colorize whatever movies he owned—even “Casablanca”—it was logical to assume he planned to go all the way and colorize the first 15 minutes of “The Wizard of Oz.” Get it?

(Meanwhile, other wags joshed that Ted planned to turn “Gone With the Wind” black-and-white. Turner later reformed and recanted, and these days colorizing is limited mainly to such things as Shirley Temple movies and Three Stooges shorts. Ironically, now that nobody wants it, the process has vastly improved. Ironically, too—ironies abound in this century—Turner has gone from villain to hero thanks to the preservation and presentation work done by the impeccable and irreplaceable Turner Classic Movies channel).

Anyway, never did I see “The Wizard of Oz” look so witcherly green-faced, so brick-road yellow, so poppy-field-red. The fidelity of the reproduction actually made more obvious than ever the film’s extensive use of matte paintings and other low-tech artifices. But the overall effect was to ultra-fabulize something that had seemed already utter in its fabulousness. “Oz” on TNT affords better, richer image quality than on any of the several DVD pressings of the film.

I had jumped to the conclusion that I was seeing the hi-def world premiere the other night but Turner people say it was shown last year on TBS the same way. Whatever, it was still a knockout. If you don’t believe me, watch the digitally restored version when it is shown again in hi-def on TNT Sunday, Dec. 17 at 10:15 a.m.

Sadly enough, TCM does not show movies in hi-def, at least not yet, so the only way to see “Oz” in this super-pristine way is on TNT with its insufferable and seemingly interminable commercial breaks. You know how it is: You can’t have everything.

Oh, and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. This really is the great and powerful—“Wizard of Oz.”