Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (not recommended)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Nov 11, 2009.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    [​IMG]



    It’s a Wonderful Life (Blu-ray)





    Studio: Paramount

    Rated: NR

    Film Length: 131 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 4:3

    HD Encoding: 1080p

    HD Codec: AVC

    Audio: English, French, Spanish DD 2.0 mono

    Subtitles: English; English SDH; French; Spanish; Portuguese

    MSRP: $29.99

    Disc Format: 2 50GB

    Package: Keepcase

    Theatrical Release Date: Dec. 25, 1946

    Blu-ray Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009







    Introduction:



    This is a film that needs no introduction; so let me use this space to convey some related information. Mr. Potter has settled in at Viacom (Paramount’s corporate parent), and he’s severely cut back on review copies for internet sites like HTF. When they do get sent, they often arrive on or after street date; hence the date on this review. Not only did the disc arrive late, but I also pushed it to the bottom of my pile, because I give top priority to discs from studios that still care about having their discs reviewed before they’re in stores.



    Why is any of this relevant? Because, as readers of Robert Harris’ posts already know, Paramount hasn’t yet achieved the kind of reliable Blu-ray output we’re seeing from Sony and Warner, and, sadly, this disc is an example. It’s an example of a disc that needs to be reviewed before street date, preferably by more than one or two sites, because the problems may not be obvious on all displays or to every set of eyes. They’re substantial nevertheless.







    The Feature:



    There’s a legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin meaning “the thing speaks for itself”. As I contemplated the utterly pointless task of summarizing It’s a Wonderful Life, it occurred to me that the concept applies perfectly here. So without further ado:








    A lot of people asking for help for a man named George Bailey.


    If you’re going to help a man, you want to know something about him, don’t you?



    “Help, George, help!” “Hang on, Harry!”



    George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.



    It’s a good face. I like him. I like George Bailey.



    I want to do something big, something important.



    This town’s no place for any man unless he’s willing to crawl to Potter.



    George, come home, your father’s had a stroke.



    Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so.



    They’ve appointed George here Executive Secretary to take his father’s place. . . . But George, they’ll vote with Potter otherwise.



    Ruth Dakin Bailey, if you don’t mind. . . . My father owns a glass factory in Buffalo. He wants to get Harry started in the research business.



    Did you know that Mary Hatch is back from school? Came back three days ago. . . . Nice girl, Mary. Kind that’ll help you find the answers, George.



    You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to shoot the works. A whole week in New York, a whole week in Bermuda, the highest hotels, the oldest champagne, the richest caviar, the hottest music and the prettiest wife!



    Don’t look now, but there’s something funny going on over at the bank, George. I’ve never seen one, but that’s got all the earmarks of being a run.



    Don’t you see what’s happening? Potter isn’t selling, he’s buying!



    But it’s your own money, George.



    320 Sycamore?



    Welcome to Bailey Park.



    President Decorates Harry Bailey



    Aren’t you going to make a deposit? It’s usually customary to bring the money with you.



    We’ve got to find that money! . . . You realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison!



    You’re worth more dead than alive.



    I’m your guardian angel. . . . You’ve got your wish. You’ve never been born.



    Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?



    You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?



    Help me, Clarence! Get me back! I don’t care what happens to me. Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me, Clarence, please! I want to live again! Please, God, let me live again!



    Mary did it! She told some people you were in trouble, they scattered all over town collecting money. Didn’t ask any questions, just “George is in trouble?” You never saw anything like it!



    To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.



    Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends.








    (For anyone suffering from an excess of holiday sentiment, I recommend the so-called “lost ending” to It’s a Wonderful Life purportedly found by writers from Saturday Night Live and available on their DVD collection of Christmas sketches. If nothing else, it offers the singular pleasures of Dana Carvey’s great Jimmy Stewart impression and of Dennis Miller attempting to act.)







    Video:



    The following comments relate only to the black-and-white version. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy the colorized version, but I don’t write reviews for them.



    At 72", my screen is not nearly as large as Mr. Harris’, but it’s big enough to show me when an image isn’t film-like. Paramount has given us a transfer that is clean, shows lots of detail and, to that extent, may please a number of viewers, especially on smaller screens. And since the film itself is so absorbing, it’s possible (at least at the size at which I was watching) to look past the image and simply lose oneself in the story and the performances, which are so good that they don’t get old even after innumerable viewings.



    But one can’t escape the reality that this is a flattened, heavily processed, electronic image. There is never any of the sense of the depth and texture that we know Blu-ray is capable of reproducing from black-and-white films from the 1940s and which must have been there at some point to have produced the amount of detail that survives in the image on this disc. Someone went wild with the various forms of electronic manipulation available to the modern telecine operator, and the damage is obvious. In fact, this disc could be the source of a new Christmas drinking game. Every time George Bailey’s tie “sparkles” (from electronically induced video noise), take a drink. By the time Uncle Billy staggers out of Harry Bailey’s welcome home/wedding celebration, you’ll be as drunk as he is.



    At the approximately 1:55:00 mark, a vertical flickering line appears at the extreme right edge. It becomes pronounced and distracting at about 2:01:00 and remains so until nearly the end of the film. To my eye, it resembled electrical interference more than print damage, but I couldn’t be sure. (On 4:3 displays, it may be hidden by overscan.)







    Audio:



    The DD 2.0 mono track has been encoded at 384kbps, which is twice the bitrate usually found on DVD for tracks of this sort. The fidelity is good, within the limitations of the source material. Certainly one would not want to see it tampered with for some sort of remix. Whether a lossless presentation would provide any audible improvement is debatable.







    Special Features:


    The special features are on the same disc as the black-and-white version.


    The Making of It’s a Wonderful Life (22:45) (4:3 SD). This 1990 TV special hosted by Tom Bosley has been included on previous DVD editions and it does not appear to have been retransferred for Blu-ray. It remains an entertaining and informative supplement.



    Trailer. The original theatrical trailer in what appears to be a hi-definition transfer. The source material is in somewhat rough shape, but it still looks better than most trailers from this era.







    In Conclusion:



    A disappointment. If one is satisfied with one’s DVD version, I wouldn’t bother to upgrade. Watch the upconverted DVD and hope for a better version down the line.











    Equipment used for this review:



    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player

    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)

    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough

    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier

    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears

    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center

    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    The following comments relate only to the black-and-white version. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy the colorized version, but I don’t write reviews for them.

    Michael; as much as one can with bad news, I enjoyed your review, and that quote induced a genuine laugh out loud...
     
  3. Timothy E

    Timothy E Supporting Actor
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    Michael, I guess you could call this one IT'S not A WONDERFUL BLU-RAY.
     
  4. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    It's too bad you didn't receive a review copy earlier, Michael. This review, along with Mr. Harris' comments, would have saved me $20 had they been out earlier. Thanks for the candid, honest review.
     
  5. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    It may or may not have resulted in any audible improvement, but it still should have been a lossless encode. I've always thought this film was overly sentimental, but it is still a perenial favorite for a lot of people. This film is a gauranteed money maker for Paramount hands down. The least they could have done is provide a treatment that does it justice in every department. To me that means using the best available video and audio encoding. Instead we are given a lazy treatment which includes a poor transfer and a compressed soundtrack. What is worse is the colourised version seems to have gotten the headline in their advertising, whike the the true version seems to have been included as an afterthought.

    All around, this release just looks like Paramount has a complete lack of respect for one of its most famous properties.
     
  6. Rachael B

    Rachael B Producer

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    I'm glad you kicked butt rather just nod and say Perry Mount did good enough.
     
  7. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    In regards to Paramount, it's no secret that of the major studios they are one of the worst with catalog titles. This is their first BD release for a film before the 1970s, which is easily lagging behind the likes of Sony, Warner, Fox and even Disney (with their limited catalog). Only the late-out-of-the-BD-gate Universal is doing worse. They don't seem to know how to take advantage of their classic catalog properly

    Now, personally this isn't a situation that will prevent me from making a purchase, but I don't already own the film. I can see the hesitation for those who may already have the DVD.

    Makes one wonder what The African Queen will look like....
     
  8. Shane Kelley

    Shane Kelley Agent

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    Thank you for the review, Michael!
    I'm curious about this statement, though. I appreciate the SENTIMENT you're trying to get across, but who exactly are you affecting by doing this? I'd think waiting is only helping the studio by keeping relevent information from the purchaser longer than would otherwise be the case. Actively choosing to wait on performing the review is kind of like a double whammy for those of us who are looking for a respected opinion on a disc in this situation, rather than actually impacting the studio in any way - heck, I'd argue they BENEFIT from this action. Anyway, you're the reviewer, not me :) I was just genuinely curious as to why you chose this particular method for determining how a delayed disc gets attention.
     
  9. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Too bad I had my reasons to get it in time. It arrived yesterday.

    Well, perhaps I will watch it on my 46" TV. Or just the colorized version.

    Joking.
    Thanks for the fine review, Michael. I will put it below the new BD of A Christmas Carol, which we will watch in December.

    It's sad, after that beautiful restoration of The Godfather, I was trusting Paramount to be able to do it right. The late shipping of review discs seems out-of-character as well.


    Cees
     
  10. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Originally Posted by Shane Kelley

    My thinking is primarily utilitarian: If it's past street date, the disc is already in circulation, and there are plenty of people out there who are qualified to comment on it. Thus, the value of anything I might have to say plummets immediately. So if I have two review discs sitting on my table, one of them already past street and one of them not, priority goes to the one that hasn't streeted yet, regardless of the order of arrival.

    To the extent there's any "message" to studios to be gleaned here, it's that some of them have enough confidence in their product to put copies in reviewers' hands in advance of street date. For the rest, caveat emptor.
     
  11. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    Paramount has always had issues with their catalog. Heck, they sold most of it in the 1950s! In the laserdisc days there were a ton of Panavision movies that were only available in Pan and Scan discs from the early 1980s, never remastered in widescreen until DVD. I remember hearing that they replaced a guy who openly stated his hatred for musicals with a woman who openly stated her hatred for westerns. Now unless it has John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn, it will probably never be seen again. The African Queen has been "coming next year" for 10 years now. Universal has the excuse of probably being sold to Comcast soon.

    I bought this disc the day it came out because A) I absolutely love this movie and B) I only had the old Artisan DVD. But Warner Bros. would never treat the movie like this (after Robert Harris's revelation I'd settle for a $90 box o' junk with Zuzu's petals, a bell that rings when an angel gets its wings, and a wet copy of Tom Sawyer because I know the movie itself would be done justice); RKO distributed it originally, but they never owned a piece of it. Liberty Films was bought by Paramount, who sold its library to National Telefilm Associates, who later became the second incarnation of Republic Pictures, who reclaimed the copyright because the story the film was based on was still under copyright; Republic got bought out by Aaron Spelling's company, which ended up at Viacom.
     
  12. Shane Kelley

    Shane Kelley Agent

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    Very valid point, Michael :) Thanx for chiming in!
     
  13. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    I'm not sure what it is about this movie, but it takes very little for it to make me start crying. It's so bad that just reading Michael's selected excerpts from the script got me misty.

    Thank you for the candid review Michael.
     
  14. Guest

    I thought the film looked great. I'm pleased that Paramount released this in time for my celebrations this year. I'll be having friends over to watch it!
     
  15. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    Well, this is one quote that rings true. It is amazing how many people in government, corporate, and financial circles have forgotten this truism.
     
  16. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Originally Posted by Michael Reuben

    Thanks for another worthwhile review, Michael, despite the rather disappointing PQ of the reviewed title itself...

    _Man_
     
  17. dbailey100

    dbailey100 Agent

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    I'm glad, too, that Paramount released it BD. I doubt the studio will be re-releasing it again next year as an ultimate edition, unless there is great $$$ potential. Has this movie been a cash cow for Paramount???

     
  18. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

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    Considering Paramount double dipped this film on DVD, with the B&W/Colorized combo being released 1 year after the 60th Anniversary Edition I'd say the $$$ potential is definitely there.
     
  19. George_W_K

    George_W_K Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the honest review, Michael. This was on my list "To buy" list, but not anymore. I'll stick with the DVD.
     
  20. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Originally Posted by Michael Reuben
     

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