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It's A Wonderful Life Blu-ray Giftset Review (1 Viewer)

Todd Erwin

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Todd Erwin
The perrenial holiday favorite, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, makes a second appearance on Blu-ray in two years. Unfortunately, this is just a repackage of that previous release in a shadowbox display box that includes a bell tree ornament and booklet.
 
 

It’s A Wonderful Life Giftset


Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
US DVD Release Date: November 1, 2011
Original Release Year: 1947
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 130 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 pillar-boxed
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English (SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese

Movie: 4.5 out of 5
As joyous as people like to think Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is, this is actually a fairly dark film. People forget that, at its basic storyline, this is a film about George Bailey (James Stewart), who gives tirelessly of himself until he reaches a point where things look their bleakest, and contemplates suicide on a bridge during a snow storm on Christmas Eve. Rescued at the last minute by guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers), George wishes he wasn’t born. To teach him a lesson, Clarence grants George his wish and proceeds to show him what the lives of his loved ones would have been like if George had never existed.

The first time I experienced It’s A Wonderful Life was in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when it would play annually in November as part of Cinekyd’s Saturday Movie Nights. Every Saturday night, Cinekyd would show a classic film and an occasional recent box-office hit in glorious 16mm. Some of the films were rented from companies that licensed these films for non-theatrical use, but many were on loan from collectors, and It’s A Wonderful Life was one of those films, having been almost forgotten and allowed to fall into public domain. In fact, if it were not for both the emergence of home video (just about every third-tier video label had released the film in some form on VHS, including Blockbuster) and the constant (and free) airplay by television stations in the 1980s, this film would very likely still be a forgotten classic, at least by the general public. Many of the VHS incarnations were almost unwatchable, taken from heavily damaged 16mm prints, although Criterion’s laserdisc was, at its time, the cream of the crop, having been struck from a 35mm collector’s print. It was not until 1993, when Republic Pictures managed to enforce a claim to the copyright, by proving in court that it still owned the original film elements and rights to the original story (written by Phillip Van Doren Stern). This allowed Republic Pictures (and later Artisan/Lionsgate and now Paramount) to release one and only one version of the film on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray.

The film’s core plot device has been popular, having been used in numerous sitcoms and one-hour dramas. The film was also remade in 1977 as It Happened One Christmas and starred Marlo Thomas in a modern update to the story. More recently, DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek Forever After implored the same device with Rumplestiltskin stealing the day Shrek was born when Shrek wishes to relive one day from his childhood.

Video: 2.5 out of 5
Many fans will likely be disappointed that Paramount decided to repackage the flawed 2009 Blu-ray release for this “new” giftset. These are the same two discs from that prior release, with the original black and white version on disc one, and a “colorized” version (apparently “approved” by Capra’s estate) on disc two. The film’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 has been retained in a pillar-boxed 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Both versions have been scrubbed to some extent with DNR to remove most, if not all, film grain, leaving a sterile-looking image. Interestingly, though, no effort appears to have been made to remove an annoying flickering white scratch that appears in the far right side of the frame during the last ten minutes of the film. That being said, contrast is quite good, with bright whites and deep blacks. Even with the DNR, detail is still quite good, allowing the viewer to see the textures in the fabrics of many of the costumes and the beard stubble on Jimmy Stewart’s face near the end of the film, although there was some occasional softness in the image from time to time as well as moir patterns in Jimmy Stewart’s tie.

Audio: 3 out of 5
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, encoded at 224 kbps, has obviously been cleaned up, with minimal hiss, pops, and crackles. Dialogue is clear, and overall the track has very good fidelity for a film of this vintage.

Special Features: 3 out of 5
Since this is just a repackage, the same disc-based extras (all found on the original Black & White version disc) are included here:

The Making of It’s A Wondferful Life (SD, 22:45): Tom Bosley hosts this TV special from 1990 that includes archival interviews with director Frank Capra, James Stewart (George Bailey), and Sheldon Leonard (Nick the Bartender).

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:48): This trailer has seen better days, but it is nice that Paramount has included it here in a window-boxed 1080p transfer using the AVC codec.

The only new extras to this release are not disc-based, and consist of a shadow box that shares the same height and width of a Blu-ray case, but the depth of approximately five Blu-ray cases. The only problem is that the inside of the box is almost too dark to see the Christmas tree inside, and the box itself isn’t all that attractive to begin with.

Also included is an 8-page Commemorative Booklet which includes stills from the film as well as an essay on the history of the film by an anonymous writer, and a small bell ornament for your Christmas tree bearing the film’s logo.

Mentioned on the packaging but nowhere to be found on either disc is A Personal Rememberance featuring a special tribute to Frank Capra narrated by his son Frank Capra, Jr.

Overall: 2.5 out of 5
At press time, the 2009 Blu-ray (without the bells and whistles, pun intended) was selling on Amazon for about $6.00 less than this “new” gift set. If the oversized box and bell ornament are not important to you, and you really must have this classic film on Blu-ray, that may be the better choice.
 

Citizen87645

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Cameron Yee
I don't think I ever saw the previous release cheaper than $20 last year. I want to add it to my collection, but hoping for the magic price point of $15.
 

Mike Frezon

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At least VCI has the good sense as it reissues it's cash cow of the 1951 A Christmas Carol to release a PCM 2.0 audio track (the '09 release only had DD 5.1 and DD 2.0).


Since this includes the same discs as the '09 release, I'll include my comments from the HTF review of that first blu release:


Watching on a small 26" HD 16:9 CRT left me amazed by how perfect this film looked. Not a scratch or bit of debris to be found anywhere. Clear and crisp and...just terrific.

Even if I upgrade to a 32" LCD sometime, I'm sure this BD will still serve me well.
One of the blessings of an HT-on-a-budget is that so many imperfections are lost on me.
And there is always that amazing crescendo at the end of the film which climaxes with the reading of Sam Wainwright's telegram that gets me everytime...


And while I know the audio sounds pretty good and has a high bitrate, I don't "get" the continued absence of a lossless track.

Thanks, Todd!
 

I'm not sure if the scratch you reference in your review is on the film, or if it is digital garbage. I can't tell, but it is annoying, especially since it occurs during the best scenes in the movie.
 

Carlo Medina

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Oct 31, 1997
Messages
12,957
Thanks for the warning...er...review of this title. I so badly want to add it to my collection but not with the sub-par transfer they've put out there.
 

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