When The Wizard of Oz debuted in 1939, audiences were blown away by the vision of Dorothy emerging from her weathered Kansas farmhouse in black and white, then stepping into the full-color glory of Oz.
A dramatic transformation unfolds before our eyes and ears when Oz the Great and Powerful opens March 8. The story begins with the typical theatrical experience of the 1930s—smaller and more-square frame ratio, black-and-white imagery, and mono sound—and melts into rich, full-color 3D and intensely lifelike Dolby® Atmos™ sound throughout the theatre.
In this way, the film also presents a trip through time and through major breakthroughs in cinema. The first Oz film was not the first film to use color, although the shift from black and white in the middle of the story may be the reason for that popular belief. Mono sound, however, remained the main choice for another three decades—until 1970, when Dolby Laboratories introduced new possibilities for storytelling in the movies.
Here are more major milestones in cinema storytelling:
1902: The first full-color film test footage is recorded by British film pioneer Edward Raymond Turner, featuring his own children playing and other subjects.
1919: American inventor Lee de Forest receives patents for innovations leading to the first sound-on-film technology, with the sound track photographically recorded onto the side of the strip of motion picture film.
1924: The Thief of Bagdad features actor Douglas Fairbanks and then-state-of-the-art visual effects such as a smoke-belching dragon, an underwater spider, a flying horse, and a famous flying carpet.
1926: AT&T researchers advance practical innovations in sound recording on film and amplification—harbingers of a new standard for movies with dialogue, effects, and music.
1927: The Jazz Singer stars the wildly popular Al Jolson in a film often mistaken for the first “talkie.” It broke ground for use of spoken dialogue in the dramatic action, recorded along with the musical score and played back from synchronized disc. The Jazz Singer was a definite force in the transition from silent movies to commercially successful sound-on-film productions.
1935: Becky Sharp is the first feature film to use the three-strip (full-color) Technicolor process.
1971: A Clockwork Orange is released, the first film to use Dolby® technology for noise reduction on all premixes and masters.
1975: Stereo sound premieres in Tommy in London, with Dolby Stereo magnetic and optical soundtracks.
1976: A Star Is Born is released in surround sound, with the first 35 mm Dolby Stereo optical film with encoded surround effects.
1992: Batman Returns, the first film in Dolby Digital format, marks the debut of digital cinema.
2009: The world premiere of truly breathtaking 3D cinema arrives with James Cameron’s Avatar in London, using Dolby 3D cinema technology.
2012: Filmmakers begin using the Dolby Atmos platform for richer and more lifelike moviegoing experiences in films like Brave and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
What cinema breakthrough do you think packs the most punch?
Top image: © 2012, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.