It's A Wonderful Life [Blu-ray]
Blu-Ray/ /2016 Re-Packaging/70
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A good but slightly ineffectual man tries to off himself after an error that really wasn't his fault. In CHRISTMAS CAROL fashion, his crusty-but-lovable guardian angel shows up to give him a tour of the world without his presence, and it isn't a pretty place. Moral courage, small-town American life, civic cooperation, and family love are glorified; corporate greed and self-involvement are vilified; at the climax, a blanket of snow like spun sugar makes everything pure and clean like redemption itself.
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This was Jimmy Stewart's first film role after serving in, literally, heroic fashion as a bomber commander during World War II. Despite being a star and subject to assignment in "morale roles" if he had so chosen, Stewart went into the Air Corp and flew a complete tour of 25 bomber missions. He also flew a number of other live missions that were tallied as flights where he trained air crews. When offered the chance to have those missions count against his tour of 25, he declined. If you know anything about the history of WWII, you know that bomber crew duty in the European theater was pretty much the most dangerous combat assignment in the war.
This DVD presentation is extremely well done. Whether from a clean print or a masterful restoration (or a combination of the two), the movie is free of artifacts of the type you find in old film prints or a rushed digital transfer. When you compare the actual film to scenes shown as examples in the two included documentaries, you can see what I mean.
And mentioning the two documentaries, they are very satisfying. One is hosted by Frank Capra Jr., the son of the famous director of the film. He narrates interesting facts about his father and this film in particular in a warm tone that makes you feel part of the process. The second feature is hosted by Tom Bosley (the father on "Happy Days"). That documentary is, I believe, somewhat longer. It goes into some of the casting choices that could have been made, which I always find interesting. Both have tidbits of history and trivia about the film that are anywhere from interesting to fascinating ... including an explanation of how the film was actually shot during a record heat wave!
"It's a Wonderful Life" has become arguably the top Christmas classic, in part due to its heavy exposure on TV, and in part because the film is so good it holds up under that heavy exposure very well. It is a must see for our family every Christmas season, and I have to say that I'm happy to own a DVD with a presentation of this high quality, so that I'm not subject to the random quality of prints shown on TV broadcasts.
I love having the option of choosing between color and black & white. Although if you're a die hard black & white fan of this movie, there's another Blu-ray release from 2011 (I think), which has the black & white film in widescreen.
This colorization is the newest version made from 2007 by Legend films. I think they did an absolute miraculous job colorizing the film. I was looking "fairly" closely through certain parts, and didn't notice anything that wasn't right. Absolute perfect job.
Anyway, I now no longer need to search and scan through all the channels at Christmas time. I've got my own copy I can load up whenever I want! That's what I cared about!
As I was growing up this film was shown repeatedly on television as it had lapsed into the public domain. Somehow, it was retrieved from public domain with some legal wrangling - and though at first I thought of that as a bad thing the quality of the film has benefited now that there is money to be made on this old classic. The initial DVDs available for this film from the public domain era were very poor quality and only recently were better scans completed. That process has been taken to "the nth degree" for the blu-ray release.
For this review I did watch the first few minutes of the Republic Pictures DVD version which last time I checked into this was the best transfer available. I recall when first seeing it that it was far superior to other versions and light-years ahead of the worn prints that used to be shown on TV. I played it on an upscaling player (actually my Sony Blu-Ray player). I then put in the Blu-Ray version and I was blown away at the improvement. The quality is really striking with facial detail and readable text, for example, on the bottles in Mr. Gower's Pharmacy. The print is totally clean and is as others have pointed out shown in the correct aspect ratio in which it was made. This means there are black bars at the sides on a wide-screen TV and this is normal and how it should be. To fill a wide screen TV would mean either stretching things so that the thin James Stewart starts to look more like Alfred Hitchcock or cutting off the top and bottom of the picture. Either of those options would go a long way toward destroying this classic. Sound quality is also excellent and clean.
As I write this I am watching the colorized version which I feel is less impressive. While colorization has come a long way and looks less like paint-by-numbers than it used to it is still obviously added color and just distracting for us purists that love the original B&W. That said, I wonder if the colorized version will be something that might make this film more accessible to kids (though I am planning on showing the original to my 5 and 7 year old kids!)
All in all, this is a fantastic buy and is a must-have for those that love this film and have a blu-ray player. I highly recommend it.