By Aaron Blevins, 9/12/2013
‘Wizard of Oz’, new TCL Chinese Theatre to premiere Sunday
In this case, the yellow brick road goes full circle.
“The Wizard of Oz” premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 15, 1939, and 75 years later, the film is again slated to premiere at the theatre, but this time in 3D.
And much like the film, the theatre itself is undergoing a resurgence, as theatre officials are putting the final touches on a four-and-a-half month renovation project that was topped off by the addition of an IMAX screen that is 94 feet by 46 feet.
“Converting this incredibly beautiful, iconic theatre into an IMAX theatre really brings it up to the most perfect technological experience,” theatre president and chief operating officer Alwyn Hight Kushner said. “It’s really the best movie-going experience going around. It’s this incredibly beautiful, ornate theatre, but at the same time, the visual and audio experience of watching a movie here is really unlike anything else in the world.”
She said the renovations, which closed the theatre for several months beginning on May 1, cost “several million dollars and still counting.” They were financed by TCL, a Chinese consumer electronics company that purchased the naming rights of the theatre at the beginning of the year.
In addition to the IMAX screen, the third largest commercial screen in North America, workers installed new seating, flooring, audio, LED lighting and an all-new costume exhibit, while preserving the Chinese Theatre’s character-defining features, Kushner said.
“It’s has … all the new trimmings and trappings of a new, contemporary cinema but preserves the beautiful nature of the theatre,” she added.
With 932 seats, the TCL Chinese Theatre is now the largest IMAX theatre in the world in terms of seating capacity, Kushner said. Some seating was removed, but the new layout provides much more comfort, she said. Workers dug through the theatre’s orchestra pit and basement and went 10 to 15 feet into the ground to offer more volume, the Los Angeles native added.
Kushner said officials worked with representatives of the Historic Resources Group, the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, Hollywood Heritage, the Los Angeles Conservancy and the city’s historic architect prior to construction.
“We, from very early on, included all these historic experts in the process because, to us, the beauty of the theatre is that it’s so historic,” she said, adding that theatre officials had to seek permits from the city.
On Monday, the theatre hosted a tech day to give reporters a rundown of the new improvements and outline the process to convert “The Wizard of Oz” to a 3D format. Chief technology officer Brian Bonnick and senior vice president of film production Lorne Orleans spoke on behalf of IMAX.
Bonnick said the sound system installed was custom designed for the venue, and that IMAX has a proprietary system that monitors sound and allows workers to make adjustments to negate the many variables that can affect sound.
“That’s really important,” he said of the company’s attention to small details. Bonnick said IMAX strives to provide the best movie-going experience. “That’s what we’re all about. That’s what differentiates us.”
He said the company is developing a laser-based projection system, which could be complete by late 2014. Kushner said the Chinese Theatre will be among the first theatres in the world to have it installed.
She said that since 1927, the theatre has been a leader in exhibition. Kushner mentioned Sid Grauman’s introduction of the red carpet during movie premieres as an example.
“It was always ahead of its time,” she said, adding that the theatre partnered with IMAX to retain that role and change with the times. “We want to have the best of the best, and that’s IMAX.”
George Feltenstein, senior vice president of catalog marketing, and Ned Price, chief preservation officer, spoke about the digital remastering process on behalf of Warner Bros.
Price said consumers frequently requested “The Wizard of Oz” in 3D, but earlier attempts to convert the film “didn’t do it justice.” While the tools weren’t available at the time, the recent comeback of 3D films brought with it new tools to convert films, he said.
Feltenstein said he was nervous when he heard that “The Wizard of Oz” was being remade. It is the oldest film to ever be converted to 3D.
“When I heard this was being done, I was not excited. I was frightened,” he said, adding that he was worried whether Warner Bros. would be able to take the “national treasure” and do it justice. “I went from being skeptical when I saw a test screening to amazed.”
To remake “The Wizard of Oz”, the company used the original color portions of the film, which survived the 1978 fire at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., Feltenstein said.
While theatre staffers are excited about the “Wizard of Oz” premiere and the new IMAX screen, they’re also excited to bring the iconic movie palace back to the community.
“That’s what’s very unique about this theatre,” Kushner said, noting the big red carpet events that are held there and the hand and footprint ceremonies — one of which was held for the late actress Judy Garland. “But it’s also your neighborhood theatre.”
Kushner, a former film producer, said the theatre will show “all big” 2D and 3D IMAX movies, and lots of “exciting” events and movies will be coming in the next few months.
The premiere of “The Wizard of Oz” will be held on Sept. 15, and the one-week IMAX engagement will begin Sept. 20. Movie tickets are generally $19, and parking is available at the Hollywood & Highland Center at $2 for four hours. For information, visit www.tclchinesetheatres.com.