It’s a Wonderful Life (Blu-ray)
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
Disc Format: 2 50GB
Theatrical Release Date: Dec. 25, 1946
Blu-ray Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009
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.
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:
You are now in Bedford Falls.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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