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It’s a Wonderful Life

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 06-09-2010

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George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all – and it’s Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all of his good deeds over the years. Will Clarence be able to convince George to return to his family and forget suicide?Amazon.comMore >>

It’s a Wonderful Life

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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” — again, it’s DATED 2008 and too early to rank among the “most helpful” reviews — 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 include 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” to the previous “gold standard” 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” outright 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 OR for Paramount Home Video.
Rating: 5 / 5

Buyers beware….This supposedly “new” 60th Anniversary Edition of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is THE EXACT SAME DISC AS THE PREVIOUSLY RELEASED VERSION FROM REPUBLIC PICTURES / ARTISAN!!!! The only differencne is that the new version is from the Scrooges at Paramount DVD and they’ve added new cover art (whoop-de-doo).

In addition, the “new” disc has the same bonus features and the same B&W transfer as the older edition. Paramount desperately needs to GIVE THIS FILM A REAL SPECIAL EDITON and stop suckering consumers into buying a product they already own!!!!!

By the way, there is NO COLORIZED VERSION on the 60th Anniversary DVD or the older release. Amazon has mistakenly listed this title as “color” and misled several reviewers to say that there actually was a colorized print on the disc. THIS IS WRONG!
Rating: 4 / 5

A beautifully crafted film that proved to be the apex of triple Oscar-winner (1934, 1936, 1938) Frank Capra’s distinguished career, and the epitome of his cycle of works celebrating the “common man”. Mr. Deeds found himself suddenly wealthy, Mr. Smith went to Washington as a Senator, and John Doe became the focus of a socio-political movement; but “Life”‘s George Bailey never distinguishes himself outside of his small hometown of Bedford Falls — his brother Harry is the one who becomes a war hero, and his friend Sam Wainwright is the one who achieves financial success. George’s triumph is simply his personal integrity, his code of ethics, and his strength of character — his goodness, if you will — during the unexciting course of his ordinary, mundane existence. In this respect, George is more an Everyman than any other Capra protagonist, inviting strong audience identification and response.

In one of the most exquisite performances ever given in an American film, James Stewart is superb as George. It’s not an easy role to play because so much screen time is spent focusing on George’s subtle reactions to the world around him. One incredible moment comes at the train station when George slowly begins to absorb the news of his brother’s recent marriage and new career opportunity, and how his brother’s fortune will destroy his own hopes of leaving Bedford Falls and the family business. Stewart’s face is extraordinary in this scene, as surprised realization fades into quiet disappointment and finally, gentle graciousness and acceptance. Stewart’s tour de force is given strong support by a superb cast of Capra stalwarts, including Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, H. B. Warner, and the phenomenal Beulah Bondi (as George’s mother). And Donna Reed, in one of her first romantic leading roles after a number of years playing supporting ingenues and bits, is excellent in the warm but unglamorous role of George’s loving wife, Mary.

The Republic Home Video DVD is definitely the edition of this classic to own. Like the LaserDisc before it, the DVD offers a crystal clear, beautifully restored film-to-video transfer which will amaze and delight anyone who is familiar only with the horrible multi-generational VHS cassettes, or the awful colorized version, that were commonly screened back in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. There are some nice bonus features on the DVD, including a “making of” documentary and the theatrical trailer. This is one DVD that you’ll never regret adding to your home theatre collection!

Trivia note: If you’re a fan of this movie, try finding a copy of film historian David Thomson’s 1985 novel “Suspects” which continues George’s story and relates the characters from this movie to many others (did you know that Donna Reed’s “Mary Bailey” is actually the sister of Gene Tierney’s “Laura”?!, etc.) … great fun!
Rating: 5 / 5

On November 4, 2006, I posted a review noting the side-by-side differences between the “60th Anniversary Edition of It’s A Wonderful Life” – vs. all other editions of this film released on home video during the past 25 years. I still stand by that review.

The “Two-Disc Collector’s Set” is a different product. While it contains the same 60th Anniversary DVD in pristine black-and-white – is ALSO includes a second DVD – a colorized version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” that boasts the best color hues I’ve seen to date!

If you’re like me — and you prefer black-and-white films to stay black-and-white – fine. But I bought this 2-disc set because I was curious about how FAR digital image technology has come – since the controversial practice of colorizing black-and-white films began more than two decades ago. In short, the colorization here is spectacular.

—–

DISC ONE — There are NO differences between the first disc in this “Two-Disc Collector’s Set” and the superbly restored black-and-white DVD released in 2006. Disc One is EXACTLY THE SAME as the 60th Anniversary Edition of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It has the SAME special features, documentaries, trailers and improved subtitles. The three-to-four VERY MINOR digital sound pops that tekkies brought up in 2006 are still present – but as I wrote then – they WON’T be a big deal for most families watching a film like this made more than 60 years ago.

—–

DISC TWO — This disc has the same pristine movie in “COLOR.” The results are stunning. Disc Two offers optional subtitles and NO extras – and NO digital sound pops!

In my 2006 review of the 60th Anniversary Edition, I noted why I kept a “colorized” version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” on video tape (Republic Pictures Home Video, 1989). Most youngsters prefer color. As they get older, they come around to appreciating the artistry of black-and-white. But early on, they still find it “boring.”

I recommend fans AND critics of colorization to at least “preview” how much has changed since those chalky crayon efforts of the 1980s. A high-tech company founded in 2001 called Legend Films, which specializes in restoring, colorizing and adding digital special effects – to NEW and OLD films – was commissioned to colorize “It’s A Wonderful Life” for this “Two-Disc Collector’s Set.”

While the results don’t match the color of today’s live action films, they’re still remarkable. Given the titanic advances in digital special effects since 1989, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It isn’t Technicolor, but the skin tones and background colors are more lifelike, enabling “It’s A Wonderful Life” to JUMP off the screen like never before. It looks brighter, cleaner and more beautiful. You can almost smell Donna Reed’s hair and see the panic in her brown eyes when James Stewart hovers over her when they’re on the phone in the scene just before they get married.

Think of well-preserved color movies made during the 1940s or 1950s that weren’t in Technicolor, but shot on different color film stock that’s still beautiful today. That’s what the new colorized version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” looks like. It’s “vintage” color, not “contemporary” color. And unless you’re a technician who understands things like fading or shifting colors, you might not be able to tell the difference between what’s original or colorized. Why? Because most of us are conditioned to expect LESS technical sophistication from films made in 1946 vs. 2006.

—–

Yes, colorization does alter an artist’s “original vision.” But the technology behind it has improved tremendously in 20 years. What this means to the future of colorizing black-and-white films, including “untouchable” classics – is a subject for another day.

The solution for tekkies? Buy this “Two-Disc Collector’s Set,” put colorized Disc Two into your player and simply turn down the color on your TV! You’ll now have the cleanest SOUND and PICTURE of “It’s A Wonderful Life” ever – better than it was for audiences in 1946! Moreover, it’ll be easier to get your kids to watch the colorized version – before “they graduate” to the black-and-white original. I hope this helps.

Rating: 5 / 5

I’ve loved to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” for as long as I can remember – and, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, it always leaves me pondering my own life – wondering what I’ve contributed to this world & to my loved ones just by the simple fact that I am “here”…

This is one of those movies that tugs at your soul and, as such, it’s one to be watched any time of the year – you don’t have to wait for the holiday season to watch this one! In fact, I think it’s an awesome movie to watch anytime you’re feeling down & depressed – as it reminds us that no matter how bad it gets, our lives do have meaning – that other people DO benefit from our being alive…

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is about the life of George Bailey (played by James Stewart) – a man who grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone. It takes place on Christmas Eve when, due to his thwarted dreams & a looming scandal, he decides that the only “way out” is to commit suicide…

However, his suicide attempt fails due to some help from an angel (played by Henry Travers) – a very “human” angel who’s trying to “earn his wings”. This “angel” decides that the best way to show George that his life DOES have meaning is to show him what life in Bedford Falls (his small town) would have been like if he was never born. He’s taken to the homes of all the people whose lives he touched, and shown where they’d be now if there had never been a “George Bailey”.

Through this experience, George finally realizes the amazing, positive impact he really had on these people, and on this town. At this point, he decides to “choose life” – it’s a beautiful moment!!!

Overall, this is a wonderful, touching, important movie. As I said before, it leads one to ponder the difference they’ve made in the lives of their loved ones – and even the lives of “strangers”. Because of this, I would highly recommend this movie to everyone – especially those who may need a reminder now & again that their life truly does have meaning – that they really do make a difference…
Rating: 5 / 5

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