Blu-ray Review: It’s A Wonderful Life

Posted: December 4, 2013 in It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Distributor: Paramount

Release Date: 03/Nov/2009 & 01/Nov/2011 (Gift Set)

Region: Region Free

Length: 130 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English Dolby Digital Mono

Alternate Audio:

French Dolby Digital Mono
Spanish Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese

Ratio: 1.34:1

Bitrate: 37.71 Mbps

Notes: This film has had two notable Blu-ray releases and a number of DVD releases. I will discuss the two Blu-ray releases in this review.

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“It was the story I had been looking for all my life! A man, a good man, ambitious but so busy helping others, life seems to pass him by. Despondent, he wishes he’d never been born. He get’s his wish. Through the eyes of a guardian angel, he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born. Wow! What an idea. The kind of idea that when I got old and sick and scared and ready to die – they’d still say, He made The Greatest Gift.” –Frank Capra

Frank Capra directed quite a few films that are undisputed classics, but none eclipse It’s A Wonderful Life. The film has become so beloved that it is rather surprising that the film was a box office disappointment. The film was also met with its share of criticism. The FBI flagged the film as communist propaganda and most critics charged the film with being “saccharin.” Capra was known for his sentimentality. The press often labeled his films “Capra-corn” for this very reason.

Perhaps the sentimental nature of the film’s ending overshadowed its darker moments. George’s crisis is one that we all face. Responsibilities keep us from the lives we plan for ourselves. We watch our dreams move farther away from us on a daily basis.

Audiences recognize the honesty of these darker moments. This is why they are able to accept and perhaps even embrace the film’s unlikely ending. When George Bailey’s friends bail him out of his predicament at the last minute, many people rejoice. It reestablishes the themes of the film despite its sentimentality.

Classics are classics for a reason and this film is no exception.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s a Wonderful Life has been given two releases that should satisfy its many fans. In the first release, the two discs are protected by a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork and a slipcover.


The more recent release is essentially a repackaging of the same two discs in a bulkier box. The box features a window that showcases a cardboard cutout of a Christmas tree. An ornament hangs down from the top of this tree. (This ornament is the only new feature of this “gift set.”) The ornament is a small bell with the film’s title painted on it. This larger box also contains a standard Blu-ray case (complete with artwork) that houses the two Blu-ray discs.

The “gift set” that includes the bell ornament is approximately thirteen dollars more expensive than the regular release. This is perhaps a bit unfortunate, because the bell ornament certainly isn’t worth thirteen dollars. Most people will be satisfied buying the standard release of the film.

The static menu on both discs feature Christmas tree artwork and are attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 1080p transfer is quite “wonderful” indeed. It is quite a step up from the latest DVD release of the film. The image is sharp and showcases details that were missed in previous transfers of the film. There are occasional moments of softness, but this is source related and these never become distracting. The contrast is excellent with deep blacks that do not seem to crush details and whites that remain natural. Grain seems to have been reduced slightly, but not to the extent that it creates any issues. Fans will be impressed with the level of detail evident in this transfer.

It is difficult to analyze the colorized version of the film. The transfer seems to be quite excellent with admirable detail. One cannot expect the colors to be natural because they simply aren’t. Purists will certainly wish to watch the original black and white version, which is more effective on almost every level. It is at least much better than many colorizations and the high definition transfer is well done.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

While it is perhaps disappointing that the disc does not contain an uncompressed audio track, the Dolby Digital Mono mix is actually pretty decent. The track doesn’t contain the pops, hiss, and other distractions that one might expect from a vintage track. Dialogue is always clear and never distorted. Even Dimitri Tiomkin’s score sounds good in this mix. While the effects are quaint by today’s standards, they are certainly represented accurately here. The truth of the matter is that a lossless track wouldn’t likely improve things very much. The source material wasn’t very dynamic to begin with. This track serves the film quite nicely.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

The “gift set” box advertises a special feature that is not actually included on the disc (and isn’t listed on the back of the actual case). It claims to include, A Personal Remembrance, which is a fourteen minute featurette with Frank Capra Jr. honoring his father and It’s a Wonderful Life. This wasn’t a very comprehensive featurette, but it did feature some interesting vintage interviews with Frank Capra and a short clip of James Stewart discussing the film. This feature was included on the more recent DVD releases of the film and is the only supplement not ported over for the Blu-ray release. While most (if not all) of the information covered on this absent featurette is covered in the Making of documentary included on the Blu-ray, it is still a little disappointing not to have it included on the Blu-ray disc.

The “Colorized” Version – (HD)

The second disc in the set features a colorized version of the feature. I have never been a fan of colorization and prefer to see the film as it was originally intended to be seen. However, it is nice to have a good transfer of it included here. It is certainly as good as can be expected.

The Making of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – (480p, 22:45)

The made for television documentary about the making of this holiday classic contains quite a bit of interesting information and features retrospective interviews with director Frank Capra and James Stewart. This is certainly a very welcome addition to the disc.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (1080p, 1:48)

The original theatrical trailer is included here in high definition.

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Final Words:

It’s A Wonderful Life is a favorite holiday classic that belongs in everyone’s collection. The fantastic 1080p image transfer makes either one of the two Blu-ray editions of the film an essential purchase.

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Review by: Devon Powell

  1. This is a great film. James Stewart was excellent. My family watches this one every year.

  2. Richard Davis says:

    Speaking of darker moments, Capra slyly allows Mr. Potter and his henchman butler to get away with their crime, stealing the money from poor Uncle Billy at the bank, no less. I’m surprised the code’s overseers let that go but maybe they were bedazzled by the happiest of happy endings. Possibly Capra meant George Bailey’s redemption to be a very temporary blip in the way of the world. Or just that the fight against the dark forces never ends.

  3. Adam Roche says:

    My favourite movie ever. Glad to see it’s getting some good treatment. I even named my podcast after the final line:

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