In the new, high-resolution DVD of “The Wizard of Oz,” a bolt is visible between the Tin Man’s eyes. You can clearly see the trapdoor used by the Wicked Witch of the West. And if you look closely, there’s a fishing line holding up the Cowardly Lion’s tail.
The latest digital version of the beloved classic, in stores Tuesday, is so crisp that the moviemakers’ production tricks are clearly revealed.
“We didn’t remove the fishing lines as a matter of philosophy,” says Rob Hummel, senior vice president for production technologies at Warner Bros., who oversaw an eight-month restoration on the 1939 classic. “We didn’t add or remove anything, just revealed what was already there by making the images much clearer.”
For the movie’s third release on DVD, the film was scanned using an ultra-resolution process that captured four times as much detail as the previous digital restoration in 1997.
The expensive process has been used on only three earlier Warner titles, “Singing in the Rain,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Gone With the Wind,” all of which were filmed in Technicolor.
Early Technicolor films were shot with special cameras that used filters and mirrors to produce three separate reels of black-and-white film, each representing one of the primary colors, which were added in the printing process.
“Some old black-and-white films like ‘Casablanca’ are unbelievably sharp, but the edges of Technicolor films tend to be soft because of problems in aligning the three negatives,” Hummel explains. “What we did was to use computers to painstakingly line up the three images.”
Though the results are spectacular, Hummel says the full effect won’t be visible until new high-definition DVD formats arrive next year.
As part of the process, dirt was automatically removed for the first time using a new software program.
“But we did have a problem with the software removing the ruby slippers in some of the long shots,” Hummel said. “That’s why we use humans to correct the process.”
The new restoration of “The Wizard of Oz” – No. 6 on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest American Movies – gets a big thumbs up from Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft.
“Thank God for Warner Home Video doing this,” Luft says from Ireland, where she is on a concert tour. For Luft, it’s important that the movie be preserved for future generations.
“Now it looks just as if you were looking through the cameraman’s viewfinder,” Luft says. My mother would really love that people can now see the movie in all its glory.”