No IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE SE DVD This year???

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jo_C, Aug 4, 2003.

  1. Jo_C

    Jo_C Second Unit

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    It seems that again this year there will be no 2-disc SE of "It's A Wonderful Life". You will recall rumors of a special edition of Frank Capra's classic holiday film surfaced a couple of years back. As we get into August, the chances of a special edition of a holiday film get slimmer and slimmer. Usually August announcements cover October releases.

    This is a real shame for the millions of fans who want the definitive video release of one of my all-time greatest Christmas classics.

    I guess you can blame the current managements of Artisan and Republic, who have been said to have put out not-so-great DVD "special editions" of "The Quiet Man" and "High Noon" (even the new "High Noon" DVD's new features were scarce, that is, not counting the supplements carried over from the previous LaserDisc edition).

    We are about a year-and-a-half away from the video rights to Republic's library reverting to Paramount (Republic's adopted sister studio)...but we are also three years away from "...Life"'s 60th Anniversary. If we videophiles have to wait until then, so be it.

    It would be nice if any digital/film restoration be a collaborative effort between Republic/Paramount, NBC (the current broadcast rights holder), the UCLA Film And TV Archive, and Frank Capra Jr.

    When you look back at the film's troubled history (from its failed theatrical release to the film lapsing into Public Domain to the copyright's recapture by Republic), I'd say it deserves another chance for a new generation.

    For the record...in addition to the revived copyright, Republic also holds rights to the original nitrate negative, the original music score tracks, and the original story on which it was based ("The Greatest Gift").

    But, again, if we don't see an SE this year, blame it on Artisan and Republic.
     
  2. Robert_eb

    Robert_eb Supporting Actor

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    This is one of my holiday favorites and would love to see a SE.
     
  3. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    I'm fine with waiting for this until it's out of Artisan's hands. They haven't done a single DVD correctly yet, and I can't see why they would start now. I have the current release to tide me over until Paramount gets a hold of it.
     
  4. Brian Kidd

    Brian Kidd Screenwriter
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    Eric,

    TWIN PEAKS was great. The extended DUNE miniseries was great.

    They can do good work, when they choose to do so.
     
  5. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Brian, I haven't seen either of those.

    They've screwed up the following
    • Quiet Man (Twice)
    • High Noon (Kinda Twice)
    • Rio Grande (Kinda Twice)
    • Reservoir Dogs
    • Tree's Lounge
    • Several Rebates
    • many more that I don't recall at the moment.
     
  6. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    I'm happy with Wake of the Red Witch and Champion, both of which are Republic titles issued under the Artisan distribution banner. They look quite nice -- unrestored, but film-like.

    High Noon was first issued to DVD by Republic themselves. It was then reissued under the Artisan banner, and finally the current "Collector's Edition" release was offered. I have the very first edition, but haven't watched it in several years.

    It's a Wonderful Life was issued by Republic before the Artisan take-over. I have Republic's DVD, which I'm sure now boasts an Artisan label on the case (and likely in front of the film), but I doubt Artisan re-transfered it (they didn't bring it out alongside their new CE's of Republic's Rio Grande and High Noon, which I haven't seen but which on-line reports here and elsewhere seem to establish were artificially sharpened and otherwise processed, but aside from this manipulation remain what we've seen in their earlier DVD incarnations; The Quiet Man, also part of that group, was first transfered and issued to DVD by Artisan, I believe, and all screenshots demonstrate that it looks bloody awful).

    I'm very happy with It's a Wonderful Life, but of course a new high definition transfer, downconverted for DVD, could only look better. The current disc (or at least the Republic disc, which I own) is a great improvement on Republic's fuzzy laserdisc, which I also own. For screenshots of the DVD, Gary Tooze's website has a page worth a look:

    http://207.136.67.23/film/dvdcompare/wonderfullife.htm

    He has also posted shots of High Noon, which again I haven't watched in quite a while, but in its old Republic version (here shown under Artisan's first, unmanipulated re-release in the middle) it looks quite good to me via these screen captures (it seems to have that depth and sheen one associates with nitrate, and that close-up of Grace Kelly absolutely sparkles -- just look at her eyes; Gary's take is more critical than mine):

    http://207.136.67.23/film/dvdcompare/highnoon.htm

    Note that the fuzzy top photos are from the Region 2 Universal release.

    It's a Wonderful Life, High Noon, and (I believe, but I'm not sure) Rio Grande, in their original Republic DVDs (such lovely silver cases [​IMG]), claimed to be taken from original negatives, a fact advertised on the back of each case. The Bells of St. Mary's* may have also boasted this claim -- I'll dig out my copies later and update.

    Artisan has been treating many of their classic Republic properties abysmally of late (though the worst I've seen is actually Hallmark's transfer of Topper, issued by Artisan with terrible image flutter and annoying motion blur; Topper Returns, on the same disc in a transfer from Hal Roach Studios, looks much better, despite a weaker contrast range), but these early releases (such as Champion, the video transfer for which may have been made by Republic and simply turned over to Artisan, for all I know) and re-releases are by no means junk. Only the recent stuff seems to fall into that category (which unfortunately means the lion's share of their classic output). I'd love to see Artisan turn themselves around (or rather back around) and put some of their high definition T2: Extreme Edition effort into a few A-list classic titles, but while that's not likely, good transfers aren't an impossibility ("good" really isn't that hard to manage, particularly from quality source elements). Artisan's higher ups don't seem to care about these classic properties at the moment, but I remain attentive to on-line reviews in the event this changes. Otherwise, as noted earlier in the thread, in a few years a major studio's efforts, either in SD or HD-DVD, should prove far more satisfying.

    Speaking of hopes for an Artisan turn-around: has anyone seen their disc of A Double Life yet? if Artisan futzed it up, that'll be a true shame and another knock against them.

    * UPDATE: In addition to correcting my earlier error (it's Rio Grande, not Rio Lobo ... so many River movies from Mr. Hawks [​IMG]), I confirmed that the four titles I mentioned all state, on their original Republic release DVD cases, that they were remastered from original negatives. It's a Wonderful Life also boasts THX certification.
     
  7. Jo_C

    Jo_C Second Unit

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    For the record, Artisan only bought the home video distribution rights, not the Republic library itself. In other words, Artisan acquired the license from Republic to distribute the films, they do not own the films outright. Paramount (Republic's adopted brother studio), on the other hand, now owns underlying theatrical distribution rights.

    By the way, it is now September 1st as I'm writing this, and no new announcement has been made. So obviously, no "Special Edition" reissue on DVD this year. We'll probably have to wait until next year, or maybe in 2005 when the Republic video license transfers to Paramount.
     
  8. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Then maybe we'll see a 60th anniversary SE release in 2006...

    - Steve
     
  9. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    No, the Artisan editions of It's A Wonderful Life and High Noon looks terrible. Over-processed, DVNR'd to Hell, all smoothed out. Bland. Clean, but... bland. A million miles away from film. The Artisan edition of Wonderful Life is the Pottersville edition!

    I eagerly, but patiently await the day that both films are presented on DVD or HD-DVD in a way that does them justice.


    Gordy
     
  10. Robert_eb

    Robert_eb Supporting Actor

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  11. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

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  12. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    I think Gordon is refuting me, as I'm the only one on the thread to say these look better 'n okay, pretty good in fact (I recall It's a Wonderful Life looking quite lovely), but once again, I'm referencing the Republic Home Video DVD editions that were first released, not the subsequent Artisan re-releases, and certainly not Artisan's "Special Edition" re-release of High Noon. Here are those links one more time, so everyone can see (in still frame and compressed, at any rate) for themselves:

    High Noon
    http://207.136.67.23/film/dvdcompare/highnoon.htm (Artisan's first re-release can be found in the middle images, and all indications are that this re-release is the same as the first Republic release; the top images are from an overseas Universal release, and they look terrible)

    It's a Wonderful Life
    http://207.136.67.23/film/dvdcompare/wonderfullife.htm (Republic Studios' DVD release is represented in the top captures)

    It's important to state, one more time, that these are the Republic transfers handled by Republic Home Video prior to the involvement of Artisan, who later re-released those Republic efforts, and did something "extra" of their own to yet a third release of High Noon.

    I look forward to Blu Ray or whatnot re-releases, but I don't know that these two need new DVD releases (you'll hear no complaints from me if and when any film is improved on disc, of course, but with so many Republic films so miserably represented in Artisan-only "quick and very dirty" abominations, these two pleasing, however imperfect*, transfers are not where I'd begin a remastering and re-release campaign; note once again that the first Republic DVD packaging says nothing about digital remastering/restoration for either of these -- DVNR or otherwise -- but does state that the transfers were taken "from original negatives" (UPDATE: I have to correct myself here: I've just looked at the DVD cases, and while they both state that they were transferred from film negatives, both also, in fact, say "digitally re-mastered," but to my knowledge this term is used very loosely and can reference anything from a carefully, lovingly created digital master for a David Shepard silent to a Photoshop-cleaned DVNR junk release); while it's met with indifference by many around here, and understandably, both of these original DVD releases are also THX certified, and I can state unequivocally that It's a Wonderful Life's release improves mightily on the earlier Republic laserdisc release; I haven't seen the Criterion laser).

    *It has been a few years since I last watched either on disc, though, so the above opinion is at the moment based only on the linked captures and my original reaction to the discs. I'll update when I have a chance to watch them again in view of the great B&W transfers that have been issued by other studios in the interim.
     
  13. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    One of the great classics from a man who realized that leaving an audience feeling good about themselves wasn't a shameful thing. I'd buy it in a second.
     
  14. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    Okay, here's the lowdown at high noon, the one-two punch drunk eye chart and digital razzle dazzle meter so we can see if it's truly a wonderful life in lala (er, DVD) land, "off the record, on the QT, and very hush hush"*:

    I've just rewatched High Noon (Republic Home Video DVD) in its entirety and the first fifteen or twenty minutes of It's a Wonderful Life. My reactions (note that the set-up here is a 32" flat display, anamorphic-capable -- which doesn't matter in this case -- and viewed through component connections; the display has been precisely calibrated with Avia in both UM and the proceed-at-your-own-risk, you-could-bust-up-your-set SM over the course of painstaking hours, and the viewing environment is pitch black; my viewing distance is around six or seven feet, but I frequently lean forward to examine detail more closely):

    High Noon

    The film as seen here often looks very good, particularly in bright exterior shots. The first problems that make themselves evident are edge enhancement (of what I would classify as "middle ground" intensity; not so mild that it's negligible, but not so egregious that it ruins the transfer) and mild fine line shimmer, the latter of which undoubtedly due to the fact that this was encoded five years ago (in 1998) and DVD technology was still very new then. Line shimmer is only slightly annoying in various places throughout the film, and only in one very brief, rapid shot of Lloyd Bridges leaving the saloon does it become truly awful (the horizontal slats on the saloon doors).

    Also immediately evident in the transfer are an outstanding contrast range that falls a bit off of the grayscale into black for some shadows, suggesting a fleeting (i.e. rarely persistent) quality of harshness to the cinematography, but this may be part of the original look of the picture (bright days do tend to create very dark shadows where shadows are found, and interior lighting may intentionally mimic this effect). Fine detail is good (neither poor nor excellent) for the first half or more of the picture, but in the second half a number of shots seem to have been inserted from alternate sources (suggested by stark changes in grain structure), and some of this material is of rather poor overall fidelity. But before I go on with that ....

    The soundtrack lacks a good sense of dynamic range, but also lacks hiss and crackle and remains very pleasant at a loud volume. While my player listed it as a 2.0 track (either stereo or 2.0 mono), my Pro-Logic receiver seemed to decode it (or at least most of it -- dialogue and music) to the center channel. I didn't put my ear to the stereo speakers to see if they were leaking any sound, but from my usual viewing distance most if not all sound seemed to come from the center. Nothing at all was evident in the surrounds, of course.

    And there you have it. Now, back to the insert shots: while most of the first half or so of the film is generally quite good, with excellent contrast and good detail, something's odd about the second half. Many shots look great, but others are actually out of focus by a hair or two (Cooper's close-ups in the saloon recruitment scene, for instance, and also a number of close-ups of Katy Jurado; these may be intentional soft focus shots, but they don't look filtered, they look out of focus, and if intentional they were not used uniformly for close-ups of either men or women throughout the film), and still others jump almost astronomically on the grain chart, with a few of the worst appearing as if someone stomped a layer of sand into the negative. With the near absence of grain early in the film, and in surrounding shots throughout, these sequences really stand out. There's also what looks to be a brief freeze frame in the middle of the sequence where Grace Kelly confronts Jurado in Jurado's room; it may just be the compression locking, briefly, onto the grain in the sequence).

    And speaking of "locking," a number of shots with both mild and heavy grain do not seem to have compressed well. The grain "swims" (I believe Robert Harris has referred to this as "digititis"), making for a still watchable but not entirely filmlike look. These moments can be found here and there throughout, but for the most part are not distracting at my screen size.

    I believe the entire film may have been filtered, mildly, to ease compression, as some shots look rock solid and lovely while others lack background detail and seem a bit blurred (aside from those that appear out of focus). Most (and I should emphasize that word) of the film looks very good, but when a background loses detail it's often noticeable, and may be due to excessive filtering.

    So, overall, I'd qualify this as a good transfer today, and a very good transfer in 1998. It never rises above the high end of good, but it never falls into mediocrity either -- it's several notches above any of the five or six transfers I've seen of Republic films as handled by Artisan, but could stand a new transfer with greater attention to any insert shots and, in general, a higher quality of compression without any unnecessary detail/frequency loss/filtering.

    It's a Wonderful Life

    Now this is an entirely new story. I've watched the first fifteen or twenty minutes, as said earlier, and this transfer is just superlative, fellas (and ladies if any are reading). Deeply film-like, lacking in any of the "swimming grain" noted above, with a beautiful contrast range and excellent fine detail, right up to and including minute facial detail in medium shots.

    The only problem I've found in that twenty minutes is an odd audio dropout as Jim Stewart is receiving his bag from the storekeeper and heads out to the taxi. By the following sequence in his parents' dining room, the problem goes away.

    Oh, and trivia fans should look very carefully at the newspaper the taxi driver is holding! Ha. I somehow missed this the four or five times I've seen the film in the past (from cable to laser to DVD), but ...

    the nod to fans of Capra's earlier work is wonderful; as it so happens, I've just recently revisited Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on DVD as well, and much like It's a Wonderful Life, it's one of the few films that will move me to tears no matter how many times I watch it ... maybe that has something to do with the beauty of the leading ladies, I dunno [​IMG] ....

    What a wonderful film. Like so much of Capra's work, moments absolutely sing with the beauty of a look or a word -- the drugstore sequence always gets to me, not just for the obvious drama late in the sequence, but for a lovely little moment between the young George Bailey and his future sweetheart as he's leaning over to fix her chocolate sunday. That's a great moment ... wow. And the film is absolutely full of them.

    At any rate, based on that first twenty minutes, I have to classify this as an outstanding transfer for 1998 (when this, too, was first released) and an excellent transfer by today's standards, as well. The fine detail that seemed missing from certain scenes (for the most part only a few interiors) of High Noon is here in spades, and while no, it doesn't look as sharp or clean as an LDI project (frame damage and dirt crops up every now and then, most noticeably in the opening titles), I couldn't be happier.

    A new edition could presumably fix the audio dropout and place the existing supplements on the same side as the feature (make it into a DVD-9, in other words, whereas it is here a DVD-10, i.e. single layered but dual sided, always a hassle for me and my ongoing battles with airborne dust), and perhaps clean some of the dirt and scratches from the print ... but there's not much else that needs doing, so far as I can see. EE here isn't as noticeable as it was on High Noon, but it's still present to a minor extent and should be eliminated entirely from any future edition.

    Hmmm. I'd say High Noon needs a restoration and remaster as soon as a reputable company can/will tackle it, but It's a Wonderful Life? Really and truly, if you're passing on it right now because the package says "Artisan," you're missing one of Republic Home Video's best products prior to the Artisan license. I don't believe Artisan has done anything new to the transfer (unlike their new SE of High Noon, and like their first reissue of High Noon, I believe they've just reissued Republic's existing edition of It's a Wonderful Life, but correct me if this isn't so), so as the holiday season approaches, rush out and buy this gem. Waiting for HD-DVD is understandable, but revisiting this title on DVD ... I don't know, guys, I just don't see the need. This is decidedly better than much of the B&W product from other major studios**, and remember, this is not a third party product! Republic themselves created it (or hired the compression and design houses that created it, I suppose, but that amounts to the same thing) prior to Artisan's license, and they did so from an original film negative (on a technical note, I've asked a few times if this is actually possible, as a film must presumably be made positive before it can be encoded, but that's beside the point -- whether they put the original negative in jeopardy by transferring directly from it -- for shame -- or duped it, created an interpositive from the dupe, and mastered from this -- in which case, many pats on the back -- this transfer looks great; fix the dropout, clean the film a bit without removing any fine detail, and eliminate any of the after-the-fact edge enhancement mildly on display, and this transfer would be perfect; similar criticism I'd levy at major studio product coming out of the gates today). [​IMG]

    Now, with my mild, somewhat mixed recommendation of High Noon in its original Republic release and my enthusiastic, no reservations recommendation of It's a Wonderful Life, all of you who think I'm crazy (get in line, get in line, no pushing ...) are welcome to say so, with my blessing! [​IMG] And lest Jo think that I'm trying to discourage Artisan from revisiting these titles, far from it. Improvements, when they can be made, are always welcome. But this is Artisan, ya' know. If it already looks beautiful, I don't know that I'd want them to touch it. Paramount, I'm sure, could find ways to improve both, particularly High Noon (superior compression and the removal of all edge enhancement would do wonders for it, and then, as said, any possible improvement for necessary inserts from other sources), but it seems they won't have the chance until 2006 ...

    ...

    ...

    ... (ahem) when I trust all visible edge enhancement/artificial sharpening and low (or is it high?) frequency filtering for compression ease will be things of the long forgotten past.

    At any rate, I hope It's a Wonderful Life is on many a DVD shelf, because it really does look splendid. "I wish I had a million dollars ... hot dog!"

    * That's Punch-Drunk Love, Chicago, and of course High Noon and It's a Wonderful Life as tossed into the Hush-Hush Magazine blender of L.A. Confidential, and no, I don't even like a couple of those films, and yes, such references have nothing to do with this post aside from the fact that I become a bit punchy myself in the wee hours. [​IMG]

    ** One note too minor to place in the main review above: nitrate can absolutely sparkle on DVD, as Kino proved with their DVD of The Iron Mask, which is marred by unfortunate ghosting (it is presumably a PAL conversion) and the resultant motion blur this causes, but in its contrast range and sense of nitrate "shine" is absolutely phenomenal. Few nitrate transfers to disc approach it, and that includes It's a Wonderful Life. B&W can look, and often does look, great on DVD, but the visual character of that nitrate transfer for The Iron Mask is a step beyond, and I'd love to see others take the same step (in native NTSC). Getting whites to glow without blooming or loss of detail is, I think, part of the equation, but I'll leave that to the technicians.
     
  15. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    After my old VHS copy, and never having seen it on LD of DVD, Artisan's High Noon SE looked pretty good to me, but I do accept it's not all that it could be.

    As for It's a Wonderful Life, rumours of an SE have prevented me from buying, but now Bill, I'm not so sure...

    ---
    So many films, so little time...
     

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