HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: It's a Wonderful Life: Platinum Anniversary Edition
HTS Overall Score:77
There are very few films that are hailed as legendary as much as “It’s a Wonderful Life”. While I adore Frank Capra’s work, this is probably his most accessible and still most widely watched movie amongst modern movie goers. Especially around Christmas time. While it was definitely a well-received back in 1946, it was not the cult classic that it is today. Capra was a well-known film maker, but it struck a chord with people and soon began to entwine itself into the psyche and film rotation of many film lovers. I remember for a fact that my parents and I wore out 2 copies of the old VHS tape back in the day, and the special edition DVD is still something I trot out every once in a while. A few years back Paramount put out A very nice looking Blu-ray of the set (including both the colorized abortion as well as the original black and white version of the film), and now they have rereleased it once again, this time with a shiny new cover art and slipcover, along with a set of very nice looking postcards to go along with it.
I’m not one of those people who automatically gives perfect scores to old movies JUST because they’re old classics. There are quite a few movies today that I give amazing scores to, but there are a few movies that have just stood the test of time. No matter how good a movie is in the short run, most of them become dated and lose steam after a decade or so. The longer a film remains “amazing” over the years, the more likely I am to recognize it as a 5/5 film. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of those movies that is just flawless, and ranks as one of the top 5 Capra films of all time to boot. There is a simple sweetness to Jimmy Stewart’s performance combined with the heart wrenching and tear inducing plot as well. Capra winds a tale young love, young stupidity, and the power of human perseverance that is a site to behold. I’ve heard the movie called “trite” by a few people, but I can’t agree with assertation. While the story is simple and done a thousand times by a thousand different directors, the perfect weaving of loveable characters, simple humility of the lead and the undeniable enthusiastic heart displayed on screen is intoxicating.
George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is at a crossroads. He’s up on a bridge ready to kill himself when an angel is sent down to confront him. Well, at least a padawan angel, as this angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) can only gain his wings if he manages to save George. In order to save him though, Clarence has to take him back through his life to get the upstanding gentlemen to understand what has brought him to this point. George is one top notch individual though. He’s saved his brother from an early grave, as well as the life of a patient of a distraught pharmacist. He has taken over his father’s savings and loan company (reluctantly I might add) and has spent his entire career helping people in the distraught times of the depression era that they’re in.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84106[/img]“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a bit obtuse at first. It doesn’t spend a lot of time in the present, but rather goes back through George’s life showing him bits and pieces of what made him the man he is today. We get to see his young childish days, the days of courting his bride, as well as the more troubled times when the great depression set in and the people who were clients of his Savings and Loan Company couldn’t pay up. It isn’t till the last act of the film that you really see WHY George is up there on that bridge, and it’s not due to some selfish desire to end it all because he is in pain. It’s a reason that solidifies George as the noble man that he really is (although misguided at this point) ends the film with one of the most memorable reunion scenes of all times.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is not just a sappy film that ends on a ridiculous high note. Sure there is some of that in there, but the third act gets dark real quick, and accentuates the notion that we are defined by our actions. George is played to perfection by Jimmy Stewart, who always manages to play the ruffled haired nice guy so exquisitely. I love Stewart in many of his films, but I was never enthused with him as an actor, but here he is used in just the right way. Lionel Barrymore as the nasty villain of the movie is the perfect 1940s tycoon, with the perfect suit, the fat body and the sneering attitude of one who has zero respect for the little guy. It’s the perfect foil for the kind and honest George and that dichotomy works to the films advantage.
Rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84114[/img]Using the same 1.37:1 AVC encoded transfer that was used in the 2009 release of the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” still impresses quite handily. The transfer IS a slight bit dated with newer remasters of films showing it up just a little bit, but it still manages to hang with the big boys quite handily. The black and white presentation is amazingly crisp and clean, showing a nice grain structure and amazing black levels. The clarity remains strong, but I did notice that there is some softness that creeps into the picture here and there. Look at the fine detail on George’s layman clothing, as well as the individual freckles on his cheeks and nose during the flashbacks. Everything is just sharp and full of vibrancy with the wonderfully balanced black and white photography. I’m not exactly a fan of the colorized version of the film, and view it more of a curio than anything. The color timing and burnished faces make for a very odd viewing experience. Leaving the image with a slightly fake look to it. Personally I’ll always default to the Black and White presentation if at all humanly possible.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84122[/img]The only disappointment that I have that I felt was a REAL disappointment over me just nitpicking is the audio. This is the same Dolby Digital lossy monorail track that was used for the 2009 release, and while it is certainly a serviceable track begs the question WHY? In this day and age a lossless track is standard and using the same lossy track from back in 2009 just feels kind of cheap. Still, the experience is not bad. The film is a very talky picture, thus you’re not going to get the benefit of a 5.1 mix, but the dialog is always strong and clean and the minimal sound effects come through quite nicely. There’s a few moments where a big of dialog is muffled, or the music overpowers a line, but overall the track is a very simple but effective 1.0 track. Just sadly still in lossy Dolby Digital.
• The Making of 'It's a Wonderful Life
• Original Theatrical Trailer
While it is not the most TRADITIONAL of Christmas films, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a Christmas classic for a reason. It embodies the spirit of love and giving that makes up our celebration of the holiday. Even if you’re super devout in your Christianity (or not even religious at all) there is nothing offensive or disrespectful about the meaning for the season, but delves into the idea that one’s actions define them more than just their words. Something which is more pertinent in a time where giving and remembering is a big part of the holiday. The film itself is perfect but I AM slightly disappointed in this edition. This is unfortunately just a repackaging of the old 2009 Blu-ray, complete with lossy 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio and the same solid video transfer from back then. The postcards are nice, and the slipcover art is great, but I really wish the audio got a re encode at the very least. If you have the original 2009 Blu-ray, than I personally so no need to upgrade, but if you haven’t owned the film in high definition before than this is probably the best version to get. Still recommended
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby Digital Mono, Spanish, French DD Mono
Runtime: 131 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: October 11th 2016
Buy It's a Wonderful Life: Platinum Anniversary Edition On 4K Blu-ray at Amazon
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