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5.0 out of 5 stars Why is this the BEST release of "It's A Wonderful Life" in home video history?, November 4, 2006
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This review is from: It's a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition) (DVD)
* BLU-RAY UPDATE - The November 2009 two-disc Blu-ray edition of "It's A Wonderful Life" contains both the black-and-white and colorized versions of this film in high definition - and is configured similarly to the standard definition "Two-Disc Collector's DVD Set" that was issued in November 2007. There are four notable differences: 1) The very few audio defects from the 60th Anniversary Edition black-and-white DVD edition that was issued in October 2006 have been wiped clean, thus making this 2009 two-disc Blu-ray the new "gold standard" for this title. 2) The old, 14-minute "A Personal Remembrance" featurette memorializing the passing of director Frank Capra in 1991 - with interviews from Capra himself and from actor James Stewart and hosted by Frank Capra, Jr. - has been dropped from the 2009 Blu-ray. 3) The subtitles on both Blu-ray discs have been replaced with a sharper white typeface that looks better on high-definition TVs. 4) A second set of subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) has also been added to both Blu-ray discs.

* All other special extras, i.e., the 1990 standard definition "The Making of 'It's A Wonderful Life'" featurette hosted by Tom Bosley - and a re-release theatrical trailer now rendered in high definition (but not cleaned) - have been carried over to the 2009 two-disc Blu-ray.

* As the cost of Blu-ray players and discs continues to fall through the floor, more buyers are taking the plunge and replacing selected titles in their DVD libraries with high-definition Blu-ray discs. Although the Blu-ray edition DOES boast the sharpest images to date - in my view, it's not necessary to make the upgrade. There IS a difference in image quality between the DVD and the Blu-ray - but it's not dramatic enough (especially if you're already using an upscaling DVD player) - to junk your 2006 or 2007 DVDs of this title. Also note that this film is presented on Blu-ray in its original 1:37:1 semi-square aspect ratio format. Like "Gone With the Wind," "Casablanca," and the equally wonderful "The Best Years of Our Lives" - the latter which beat "It's A Wonderful Life" as the Best Picture of 1946 - this film was NEVER shot with wide screen cameras.

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ORIGINAL 2006 and 2008 PRODUCT REVIEWS BELOW.
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* Rather than review the content of this almost universally beloved film, I'm just going to comment about the quality of the 2006 60th Anniversary Edition DVD itself. I've since written an updated review about a new edition of this title, now available in a "Two-Disc Collector's Set." Please find that review -- which was posted on December 13, 2008. (Amazon has posted my 2006 review in both places -- even though the "60th Anniversary Edition" DVD is DIFFERENT from the "Two-Disc Collector's Set". Read my write-up for the "Two-Disc Collector's Set" -- to better decide which product you prefer.)

* I've owned nearly every version of this title in almost every format available on home video during the past 25 years. It's true that the CONTENT of this Viacom/Paramount DVD -- including its special features -- is identical to the Republic Pictures Home Video release more than 10 years ago.

* However, this 60th Anniversary edition is spectacular for several different and extremely important reasons. (I'll address the criticisms some people have leveled about the sound on this 2006 DVD in a little bit, so stick with me.)

* You don't have to be a technical expert to immediately notice the striking improvement of the picture AND sound in this 2006 edition. The print is crystal-clear and in my view, has more vividness and sharpness than ALL other previous releases of this title on home video.

* Proof? I put my "old" THX-version DVD issued by Republic Pictures / Artisan Home Video (the former DVD gold standard for this title) -- into my Sony multi-changer DVD player -- and watched and listened to every frame of this film AND its special features. I stopped and started this "older" DVD in several spots -- and stopped and started the new 2006 Paramount edition repeatedly -- so I could compare quality almost "side-by-side."

* Hands down -- this 2006 version is fabulous. The spots and dirt have been wiped clean, the sharpness and contrast are arguably better than what film audiences saw 60 years ago. There are no ragged spots, no jumped frames and no lint, fiber or hair fragments along the edges or jumping across the screen. I believe the technicians at Paramount (which acquired Republic Pictures Home Video) -- digitally cleaned EVERY frame of the last DVD release -- so that the film now looks like a million dollars. It's almost too pristine, if there is such a thing. No jump cuts, no "jump ahead" sound breaks, no fogged-out scenes, nothing ragged -- with the result being the cleanest and purest version of "It's A Wonderful Life" ever issued in home video history.

* It gets better. English subtitles were available on older DVD versions of this title, but the 2006 version has a cleaner typeface, wiping out some of the confusing and unnecessary attributions of "who's saying what" that were disruptive to some hearing-impaired viewers. In this 2006 version, you'll get a mostly straight, line-by-line reading of what's being said -- as it's being said.

* Meanwhile, the DVD's special features - which includes the same pair of documentaries produced in 1990 and 1991 - are identical in that they were shot on video tape hence there isn't much improvement in picture quality. However, subtitles that WERE NOT available for these special features - are NOW available in this 2006 edition. The only "extra" that remains unchanged - is the original 1946 trailer. Subtitles are not available and it has the same raggedness and dirt commonly seen with vintage trailers stored separately from the films they used to advertise.

* I'm highly critical of re-issued DVDs that seem nothing more than an excuse to squeeze more dollars out of buyers for the same material with new packaging. But this 2006 Paramount DVD version of "It's A Wonderful Life" is the best to date. It is NOT in color. (I own a colorized version for younger people who can't stand black-and-white. Despite controversy surrounding colorization, know that the 2007 "Two-Disc Collector's Set" has the same 2006 60th Anniversary black-and-white edition you see here - plus a new "colorized" version. This version uses the same pristine print - but has the added bonus of boasting the best "color" hues ever seen for this film, using the latest image technology available. Despite my preference for black-and-white, the quality of this new colorized version is impressive.)

* Meanwhile, let's address the criticisms about the sound on this new DVD. Go back a little bit. Much was made when Republic Pictures Home Video got the THX LucasFilm sound system seal of approval for "It's A Wonderful Life" during the 1990s. But it was still two-channel mono with negligible equalization of sound effects. In this 2006 DVD, you'll get consistent two-channel mono and decent sound equalization to minimize "booming" and over-modulated portions in the film. In the old versions, you had to turn down the volume a notch during the musical portions -- and turn it back up when the dialogue came back. It's a nit-pick, but you really notice the difference if you're crazy enough to do a side-by-side comparison like I did.

* As for the digital sound "pops" that perfectionists keep bringing up -- they're right. They're even in the spots noted by another fine reviewer who listed time codes where you can find them. But in my view, unless you brace yourselves for them to arrive like a booming train - unless you purposely crank up your speakers to carry sound throughout your house - yeah, you "might" be annoyed if you demand the same perfection for a film made in 1946 as you would for a film made in 2006. Honestly, the disproportionate attention given to these digital "pops" is, in my view, giving fence-sitters the impression that they're supersonic cracks of lightning that will make people jump out of their seats. I didn't twitch at all. They almost "blended" into the 60-year-old soundtrack. Yes, I know they're digital defects, but do you remember the zillion "pops" scattered throughout dirty prints of "It's A Wonderful Life" with filthy optical soundtracks? The audio on this 2006 DVD still wins. You have EVERY RIGHT to demand perfection for your dollars. But as a person who's more fastidious than average - I don't believe most buyers will care about a few "pops" in a film that's this old. Combine the overall improvements with the relatively low cost of this DVD - and I still say this is the BEST experience of "It's A Wonderful Life" I've ever SEEN and HEARD on home video.

* Finally, another reason to buy this DVD. It's old news to some, but it's not widely known that this version of "It's A Wonderful Life" can only be broadcast by NBC. It used to air a zillion times during the holidays on every TV station on earth. It was a quick way to get tired of even a super film you think you know by heart. But Viacom/Paramount now owns this version of "It's A Wonderful Life" and NBC has exclusive licensing rights to air it just once or twice after Thanksgiving. This is a good thing for future generations to appreciate.

* So junk the old, buy this version and be happy. It may feel painful, but it's worth it. And no, I DON'T work for Amazon NOR for Paramount Home Video.
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Comments

Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 47 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 5, 2006 1:30:58 PM PST
R. Scott says:
Thanks for this exhaustive analyses and side by side comparison. I found your review very interesting and encouraging.

Posted on Nov 6, 2006 4:52:35 AM PST
Yes, thank you for the review. It is good to know that the 60th Anniversary release is NOT a rip off (I never thought that it would be), but it really helps when someone knowledgeable clarify the issues.

Posted on Dec 5, 2007 2:32:57 PM PST
Jeannine says:
Super-helpful review. Thanks!

Posted on Dec 13, 2007 10:10:18 PM PST
Carl Sagan says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2007 3:26:22 PM PST
Wendy says:
Sorry, Carl, but you're a little bit wrong. Most of the film is in the public domain, but what is not in the public domain is the music used in the film. To get control of the airing rights of the film, some enterprising folks wrangled together the music rights into a single bundle and then put the hammer down. So what NBC really has the right to broadcast once a year is the music. Anyone who wants to air "It's a Wonderful Life" is free to do so, as long as they mute the soundtrack whenever music starts to play. And that's why clips of it continue to pop up in ads and other movies and such.

Posted on Dec 28, 2007 4:06:19 PM PST
Most excellent review (on both versions). I disagree with your enthusiasm on it being shown once a year. Since NBC went 'grinch' and only shows it one time once a year, I've never seen it. MY schedule is not the same as what NBC wanted it to be. When it was shown 20 times I would at least catch it once. Now I'll just pick up the DVD and pay no heed to NBC. :)

Posted on Jan 10, 2008 11:43:30 AM PST
C. Celi says:
Excellent review - most appreciated.

Posted on Oct 16, 2008 8:09:56 AM PDT
D. berdusis says:
Finally!!! helpful, relevant critiques about the dvds, NOT story summaries. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2008 10:40:06 PM PST
MacGuffin says:
AMEN to D. berdusis. These are the kinds of reviews (for DVD's and CD's) that I find most informative and that I myself write. Thanks so much for your efforts--very much appreciated.

Posted on Dec 3, 2008 11:51:55 PM PST
Awesome review! You've convinced me to purchase this one. :-)
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