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It's a Wonderful Life(1946)
George Bailey is a small-town man whose life seems so desperate he contemplates suicide. He had always wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world, but circumstances and his own good heart have led him to stay. He sacrficed his education for his brother's, kept the family-run savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. As he prepares to jump from a bridge, his guardian angel intercedes, showing him what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls is he had never lived.
For more about It's a Wonderful Life and the It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray release, see It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 5, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi
Director: Frank Capra
» See full cast & crew
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray Review
Paramount's Blu-ray release of this all-time classic is worth living for.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 5, 2009
Please God, let me live again.
Recognized as a fine film but hardly considered the classic it's hailed as today upon its initial release in 1946, Director Frank Capra's (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) It's a Wonderful Life took a turn for the wonderful over the years, emerging not as merely a "good" or even "memorable" film, but an unmistakable classic not only because of its Christmas setting (at least in the final act) but because of its enduring message on what it truly means to be alive. Remembered for its strong performances from a post-World War II Jimmy Stewart (How the West Was Won) and Donna Reed (They Were Expendable); exceptional casting and performances of its secondary and tertiary roles; spiritual undertones; and thematic significance as a story that conveys the true meaning of life, wealth, friends, and family, It's a Wonderful Life is a rare film that has withstood the test of time and touched millions through its charm, meaning, and purpose. Nominated for a handful of Academy Awards -- including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director -- but failing to capture Oscar gold, the lack of any wins actually seems fitting in context. Like the themes the movie espouses, it's not physical wealth but rather admiration, love, and integrity that makes a man -- or a movie -- memorable, and It's a Wonderful Life has ingrained itself into culture like few other films, its lack of Oscar wins merely a footnote next to the adoration the film deservedly enjoys year after year from a loving public.
Family man George Bailey (Stewart) is on the verge of suicide. Hearing a chorus of prayers lifted up to the Heavens in his name, the wingless Angel Clarence (Henry Travers) is sent to save George and, if he succeeds, earn his wings. Before Clarence can embark on his mission, he must learn of the events in George's past that led him to the bridge high above the icy waters of Bedford Falls on that fateful Christmas Eve. George is depicted as an upstanding citizen; he once saved his brother's life from the clutches of an icy grave; he saved the life of a citizen from a wrongly mixed prescription on account of a distraught pharmacist mourning the loss of his son; and he reluctantly takes over his father's loan business, granting many of Bedford Falls' citizens the chance to own a home, particularly when George begins construction of affordable housing. Always on his case is rival businessman Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) who tempts George with a cushy high-dollar job if he only goes against his morals and sells out his business. On top of that, George has married the lovely Mary (Reed) and with her begins a family. George seems to live the perfect life, but as events lead him to the brink of disaster, his fate will be in the hands of an Angel that can show him what life would be like in Bedford Falls without his surprisingly positive influence.
It's not immediately clear what It's a Wonderful Life sets out to accomplish. Beginning with a suicidal George Bailey, the movie spends most of its time in flashback recalling the important moments of his life: saving his brother's life, working in a pharmacy, constructing the series of events that lead him to a career in his father's loan business, and his marriage and the birth of his children. Viewers -- even those intimately familiar with the film -- will find themselves enthralled with the life of George Bailey as it unfolds for the first two acts of the film, and Director Frank Capra does such a marvelous job of so fully immersing the audience in George's life that it seems impossible that anything could threaten to destroy it, and the film's open seems almost an accident, the footage of a different film somehow mistakenly tacked onto the beginning, for one simply can't imagine the honest, hard-working, cheerful, and loving George suffering through such a decline that could lead him to even contemplate ending his own life. Nevertheless, the crux of the film, as found in the final act, reveals a story of both thematic importance and moral sincerity. As George allows himself to quickly become unhinged at the prospect of a failing business thanks to an accidental loss of a large sum of cash, he contemplates throwing away everything his life has, to that point, given him, his friends and family in particular. Ultimately, the film delivers the message that life is a treasure, that worldly riches mean nothing next to the gift of love, family, friends, honesty, and integrity that prove more valuable than those other fleeting items of value that man so often holds in higher regard.
It's a Wonderful Life works so well for many reasons, not the least of which is thanks to its impeccable cast. Outside of George, it's arguable that the most important character in the film is Mr. Potter. The antithesis of everything that George stands for, Potter represents a man, that through the entirety of the film, sees the world as George sees it only once he allows those lesser things dominate his life. The upright George counteracts the crooked Potter, and as Clarence shows George, only standing firm against those that look out only for their own interests -- no matter how they may disguise their intentions -- can result in the betterment of society on the whole. Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore are wonderfully cast opposite one another; Barrymore plays Potter as a villain but not a completely disagreeable one; he's not a Tony Soprano sort, but he's sufficiently uncouth and dishonorable to play in contrast to Stewart's famous "aw shucks" demeanor which serves him here perhaps better than any other role in his storied career. In addition, Stewart shifts gears at the drop of a hat (or the plunge of an Angel, as the case may be) to transform his character into a man at first on the verge of doing the unthinkable, and later, as a man lost in time and place, confused, physically disheveled, and spiritually broken. It's a fabulous effort all around, and his uncanny ability to cover not only the range of emotion but sell the meaning of the movie at the end truly makes it a hallmark performance in the history of cinema, as treasured as the film itself.
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray, Video Quality
It's a Wonderful Life arrives on Blu-ray with a handsome 1080p, 1.37:1-framed transfer that preserves the film's original presentation by placing vertical black bars on either side of the image when projected on a 1.78:1 display. The image is consistently sharp, clear, and wonderfully detailed, with only the occasional shot going a bit -- but not distractingly so -- soft. Almost from the get-go, Parmaount's transfer impresses with the level of visible detail seen in the pharmacy where young George works; from the intricate lines on the old-style cash register to the clarity of the posters on the walls and the labels on the bottles, the transfer reveals a level of detail that is sure to impress even longtime fans of the film. Likewise, the transfer nicely renders the faint freckles as seen on young George's nose and cheeks, and it uses the 1080p resolution to wonderfully reproduce the fine details on clothing, particularly woolen men's suit jackets seen throughout the picture. Black levels are wonderfully realized, too. Disc two of this set contains a colorized version of the film. While purists will want to stick with the black-and-white edition, those wanting to see It's a Wonderful Life in a brand new light will want to give this version a spin. It's wonderfully done; vibrant from beginning to end, the colorized version -- from the Heavens above to the fresh white snow and everything in between -- might not suit everyone's taste, but it rarely looks fake and it helps to further bring out some of the finer details of the image. Flesh tones look rather pasty, but otherwise, the color version might make for a unique holiday treat for those yet to see the film in anything other than its original black-and-white version.
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Though delivered with but a monaural soundtrack, It's a Wonderful Life's lack of a lossless or uncompressed 1.0 soundtrack option is something of a disappointment. Though this is certainly not the sort of material that's going to be leaps and bounds better one way or the other, one might reasonably assume a slight upgrade in clarity with a lossless mix. Nevertheless, the included Dolby Digital 1.0 track is sufficient in every regard. Limited to the original source material, the soundtrack features little range and the occasionally muffled musical note or sound effect. Music flows nicely enough but there's certainly not much in the way of precision or absolute clarity to be heard. A dance hall scene in chapter eight delivers suitably good sound effects, from the stomping of the dancers to the range of high and low instrumentals in accompaniment. The track features a few atmospheric sound effects, many of which are represented by passing and honking cars which at least give the impression of movement around the front middle portion of the soundstage. Dialogue is acceptably clear throughout. There's really nothing wrong, per se, with the track as-is when considering both the source material and the absence of a lossless option. Listeners should expect nothing but the basics and, as such, the track is just fine.
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
It's a Wonderful Life features two bonus materials, both found on disc one, the same one housing the black-and-white version of the film. The Making of 'It's a Wonderful Life' (480p, 22:45), hosted by Tom Bosley, takes a surprisingly enthralling look at the history of the film. It begins with a glimpse at the greeting card -- "The Greatest Gift" -- that inspired the film and moves on to share Frank Capra's involvement and his style of positive and uplifting filmmaking, Jimmy Stewart's performance, the casting of the secondary roles, several interesting anecdotes, the large set built to represent Bedford Falls, the fake snow, the film's premiere, its legacy, and more. The piece includes vintage interview footage with Capra, Stewart, and Sheldon Leonard; clips from the film; and behind-the-scenes footage. Also included is the It's a Wonderful Life original theatrical trailer (1080p, 1:48).
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Certainly not a traditional Christmas Movie in the generic sense of the term, It's a Wonderful Life is nevertheless perhaps the one film that truly defines the spirit of the Holiday as it was meant to be understood. George's actions -- though he in no way sets out with such lofty ideals -- impacts the lives of all around him, and for the better, not because of power or wealth, but because of spirit and a sound heart. It's a Wonderful Life, then, states that being rich -- or being Mr. Potter -- doesn't equal being happy -- or George -- and it's when the definition becomes confused that life can take a turn for the worse. The film depicts wealth as the love of family, the respect of friends, and the nobility of being a good man, and in the end, it captures not only the spirit of Christmas but the meaning of life, a fitting combination seeing as how the two are forever spiritually entwined. Paramount's Blu-ray release of It's a Wonderful Life is itself wonderful. Though it sadly lacks a more robust supplemental section, it does offer a stunning picture quality (and the inclusion of a colorized version for those so inclined) and a monaural soundtrack that does all that's needed of it. For those that have seen It's a Wonderful Life dozens of times and newcomers alike, Paramount's Blu-ray release of this all-time cinema classic comes highly recommended.
It's a Wonderful Life: Other Editions
It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray, News and Updates
• It's a Wonderful Life: Collector's Edition Gift Set Blu-ray - August 16, 2011
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced a new edition of their perennial Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. The new Blu-ray will come packaged in a shadow box with a commemorative booklet and a collectible ornament. Similar to the previous release, the ...
• Today on Blu-ray - November 3rd - November 3, 2009
When 'Forrest Gump' received its theatrical release 15 years ago, the media quickly latched onto the realistic special effects used to insert Tom Hanks character into a number of historically significant film footage that can be seen throughout the film. ...
• It's a Wonderful Life Blu-ray Announced - August 24, 2009
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of Frank Capra's classic 'It's a Wonderful Life' for November 3. This edition will include both the black-and-white and colorized versions of the movie. Bonus features consist of a making-of documentary, ...
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