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Disney film ‘Oz’ will open Union Station’s new digital 3D theater

Updated: 2013-04-17T04:04:52Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Union Station will become the Emerald City bathed in green light with a yellow brick road to celebrate snagging a first-run Disney movie to open its new digital 3D theater next week.

An invitation-only preview of “Oz the Great and Powerful” on Tuesday will be followed by a public preview Thursday and then five showings a day through March.

It will be the first feature in the newly upgraded Extreme Screen Theater, with lenses customized to project 4K digital images in 3D on the largest screen in the region.

The new Oz film, starring James Franco and directed by Sam Raimi, is Disney’s big throw for the spring and opens nationwide on Friday.

“We couldn’t ask for greater publicity to open a new theater,” said Union Station CEO George Guastello.

The new theater was created with $400,000 in private donations. The space formerly housed an Iwerks system, but it has been completely modernized to become a high-tech business conference center as well as a venue for entertainment and educational features.

After “Oz” leaves, the theater will show “Tornado Alley,” which engulfs audiences in the power and science of tornadoes in 3D.

For Union Station officials, the connections between Oz and Kansas and tornadoes and the approach of severe weather season — and lots of people with leisure time during spring break — all swirl together to form the perfect storm.

Indeed, the timing gods seem to have been smiling on Union Station in recent years. It scored big by having the Princess Diana exhibit when the royal wedding of her son occurred in 2011, and it was showing the Titanic exhibit when interest peaked for the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

The Disney brand and publicity machine is sure to stir interest in the latest fantasy based on the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

Union Station officials began planning the upgrade of the Extreme Screen Theater a year ago before becoming aware of the upcoming Disney film. Guastello saw the trailer for “Oz” a few weeks ago, and station officials began talking with Disney representatives. Guastello played up Walt Disney’s Kansas City connection. Disney lived and worked in the city and was inspired to create Mickey Mouse here.

The VIP preview was arranged and then, just this week, Disney agreed to a deal to show “Oz” on a limited run at Union Station.

The station partnered with Dickinson Theatres on the “Oz” deal, and Dickinson will manage first-run movies in the Extreme Screen Theater.

The first public showing of “Oz the Great and Powerful” in Kansas City will be at 9 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are on sale now at www.unionstation.org.

Jerry Baber, chief financial officer for Union Station, said Extreme Screen Theater ticket and concession prices will be at or below those of other commercial theaters. Adult tickets for “Oz” in 3D are $13.50

Union Station sought private donations to upgrade the old 70mm film theater. The goal was to have a technologically up-to-date giant screen venue to show science and education films in conjunction with Science City and the Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station. But as a very popular movie about dinosaurs proved a few years ago, science can be entertaining as well.

In converting the space, Union Station also built an 1,100-square-foot platform at the base of the screen to accommodate business gatherings that are expected to make use of the giant screen and 1-gigabite Internet connectivity for presentations and global teleconferencing.

The Kansas City entrepreneurial community got a look at the space last month when the University of Missouri-Kansas City launched its Digital Sandbox project in the theater. But the projection system used on that occasion was rented. The new system has now been installed and calibrated specifically to fit the theater’s dimensions and fill the screen, which is 80 feet wide and five stories tall.

The screen itself was specially made and painted silver for optimum reflection and clarity.

Union Station received a $150,000 challenge grant from the Goppert Foundation to renovate the Extreme Screen. The station then received $250,000 more from the Regnier Family Foundation and the Victor E. and Caroline E. Schutte Foundation.

The Regnier Family Foundation also provided support to build the original Extreme Theater when Union Station was renovated in the 1990s.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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