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It's a Wonderful Life - 4K Blu-ray Review

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It's a Wonderful Life

There are touchstone pictures that transcend any generation, no matter when they were born, that fall under the MUST WATCH category. They are masterpieces. Films like Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of Sierra Madre, (I know! Bogart nut) it doesn’t matter. If you are a film aficionado, a general viewer, a picky viewer—these kinds of films will leave you being glad you’re one of the masses that have seen them.

Surprisingly, this reviewer had never seen Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I even knew a couple of quotes from it most of my life but had never seen it. I’m glad I’m now in the seen it crowd, and will definitely join the millions around the world in revisiting this one often.

"Nobody is perfect, no life rolls out that way, but this film did; perfect in every way"


Set (for the most part) in the 1940s, this tells the rather Dickensian tale of George Bailey (the wonderful James Stewart). George has been a good soul since very young, since he saved his younger brother from drowning and prevented a grieving chemist from accidentally poisoning his customer. In a Dickens-like fantasy, angels are watching George from up high, and in the winter of 1945, at the end of his rope, George is about to attempt suicide. For an angel in training, this is his chance to earn his wings in Heaven and show George that no matter how grim things seem, he still has a lot to live for.

Starting as short story by Phiilip Van Doren Stern, The Greatest Gift (that was actually secured for Cary Grant) it ended up in the hands of Frank Capra. He immediately wanted it to be his first post WW2 feature film. Writers Dalton Trumbo, Clifford Odets, and Marc Connelly worked on drafts before Capra came on board. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson, and Dorothy Parker would all do further drafts on what is reported to have been a tumultuous development process, with Capra being accused of being horrid and stealing credit. It was the director who renamed the title.

Jimmy Stewart never turned in a bad performance. He was, in my opinion, the Tom Hanks of earlier decades. He is effortless in his unique charm and voice; he can play goofy as well as he can play darkness. But he’s never anything but a great, inoffensive guy to spend a couple of hours with. As George Bailey, he was perfectly cast. Australians would call this character a battler: a person who, despite wanting another path in life, always strives to make the best of it, not just for themselves, but for everyone around them.

The whole cast is bang on in this movie, especially Donna Reed, who had a sparkling to-and-fro with Stewart throughout. She was strong and willful (of the period) without falling into antagonism. Her character, Mary, had dreams and goals too, and work with George to achieve them. They make a hell of a team in this.

This is obviously a stage based production, as many of that era were, but is rich in detail that really impresses, seeing it on a modern screen at the resolution now available to us. Everything from the backdrop paintings, to the construction of the sets to the costumes is just first rate.It's a Wonderful Life

The fantastical elements are conveyed by a starry lit sky and voice-over. It’s a beautifully simple execution that gives the audience that omnipotent perspective without sending the relatable small town Americana into garish fantasy. The film is lock stock kept in Bedford Falls, and is better for it.

So people watch this film every year. I can see why. While it’s thematically a dark film, concerning itself with an unfulfilled man and his ponderings of ending his life, that man is Jimmy Stewart. And the execution of Stewart’s Bailey reluctantly going about his business and never seeing just how important he has been to the community couldn’t be a better Christmas message. We affect everyone we meet and doing your best and doing what’s necessary isn’t a bad life at all. Nobody is perfect, no life rolls out that way, but this film did; perfect in every way.

5/5 stars

It's a Wonderful Life

4K

4K UHD Details:

4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD

Home Video Distributor: Paramount
Available on Blu-ray
- October 29, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Audio:
English: Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Mono; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono; German: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono; Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono; Japanese: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

Video

This film was shot on nitrate stock back in the day. When Paramount set to task restoring this film, they used both the original camera negatives and two first-generation theatrical prints to create a new master. The native 4K scan is the best this film could possibly look. It’s like stepping through a display into 1945. The textures of the actors, the clothes they wear, and the fake snow on the ground are as if you’re standing right there as well. Grain, which was pronounced in nitrate stock, is present throughout, but the transfer balances its presence without sacrificing detail. This is obviously a black and white film (although it’s been colourized before) and is a perfect representation of what HDR can do for contrast, because this is just beautiful. There are some inconsistencies from shot to shot, due to three sources being used, but unless you’re an audio/visual freak, I don’t think you’ll notice too much. It’s just that good.

Audio

This is the same DOLBY TrueHD two-channel mono mix from 2009. It’s a crisp and of the period representation of the picture’s sound, remiss of any vintage tininess. Dialogue is clean and clear, any environmental or crowd scenes are serviceable but all come from the two channels afforded in the front. I think, considering the perfection achieved in the video transfer, Paramount could have added a new mix to complement the 21st-century picture quality. A true surround mix would have been welcomed.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Feature commentary audio track with director Chris Addison

Special Features:

This 4K disc actually has some! There’s a wonderful feature on the restoration process and the pains they went through to make this happen and preserve this film for generations to come before the original camera negatives are gone (which apparently they well and truly are on their way). You get a little documentary on the history of Capra and also a short vintage footage bit on the wrap party. This is interesting for film buffs and at least a little content apart from the film.

  • Restoring a Beloved Classic
  • Secrets from the Vault
  • It's A Wonderful Wrap Party."

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars

It's a Wonderful Life

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
130 mins
Director
: Frank Capra
Writer:
Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Cast:
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Genre
: Comedy | Drama
Tagline:
Frank Capra's original 'It's a Wonderful Life'.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Zuzu's petals... You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you."
Theatrical Distributor:
RKO Radio Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 20, 1946
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 29, 2019.
Synopsis: An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

It's a Wonderful Life

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