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Distributor: Paramount

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 131 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, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Ratio: 1.34:1

Bitrate: 39.00 Mbps

Notes: This film has had two previous Blu-ray releases and a number of DVD releases. This Platinum Anniversary Edition is essentially a re-packaging and does not represent any major overhaul. However, the advertised six “art cards” are exclusive to this set.

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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 gets 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

“The Greatest Gift” originated as a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, who famously gave the story to friends as a Christmas card when he couldn’t find a publisher for it, although it isn’t often mentioned that he found various publishers for it soon after it’s informal release. It was published first as a book and was later included in various magazines (sometimes re-titled “The Man Who Was Never Born”) The themes appealed to Frank Capra, who had built his reputation championing the “common man” and a “love thy neighbor” philosophy in his film work. The story seemed to encapsulate all of his favorite themes.

Capra had already directed quite a few films that are undisputed classics, but none eclipse It’s A Wonderful Life—which stands strong as the director’s masterpiece. After being nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Recording), the film passed into cinema limbo and was all but forgotten until television revived it many decades later.

Worse yet, the FBI flagged It’s A Wonderful Life for what they perceived to be 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 the film’s rather dark subject matter. 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, and the fact is that most of us never live the lives that originally hoped to live. The film’s fantasy elements make us forget that this is actually a very simple story about a man drowning in the realities of life.

If the ending is sentimental, then the sentimentality has been well earned. Audiences recognize the honesty of George’s struggle. This is why they are able to accept and perhaps even embrace the film’s unlikely ending. Viewers rejoice when George Bailey’s friends bail him out of his predicament at the last minute. 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 landed on Blu-ray for the third time to celebrate the film’s 70th Anniversary, and the discs are housed in the standard Blu-ray casing with new film-related artwork that is reasonably attractive but not necessarily superior to the artwork featured on the first two Blu-ray editions. The case is protected by an embossed slipcover featuring the same artwork.

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Also included inside the case are 6 attractive “art cards” that feature various posters and lobby cards for the film. The inclusion of these cards is the primary difference between this new edition and the two previous Blu-ray releases.

The menus are identical to those utilized for the previous two releases and feature a decorated Christmas tree. They are attractive and easy to navigate but one feels that they do not truly represent the film.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

My review of the earlier Blu-ray releases of this film was not only extremely forgiving but actually quite enthusiastic. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to be enthusiastic this time around, because Paramount wasted an opportunity to offer fans something even better than this transfer, which is the same one that they have offered twice before. The image is reasonably sharp and a marked improvement over DVD editions of the film and contrast is very nice indeed. Unfortunately, there seems to be some slight digital noise reduction on display. It isn’t quite as bad as some might suggest, but it certainly hasn’t been done as subtly as one might hope. Luckily, this is really the only issue that stands out.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

This Dolby Digital Mono mix is actually pretty decent, but why on earth wouldn’t Paramount take advantage of this new 70th Anniversary release and include a lossless audio upgrade? Could it possibly be anything other than laziness or apathy? Luckily, 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 somewhat decent here. One cannot say for certain that a lossless track would be a marked improvement over this Dolby Digital transfer, but one would assume that such an upgrade might at least represent a marginal improvement.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Before discussing the included supplementary material, it is necessary to point out that one of Paramount’s previous featurettes is conspicuously missing here (and from the other two Blu-ray releases.  A Personal Remembrance 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 any of Paramount’s Blu-ray releases. 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 in this so-called “new” Blu-ray package.

The “Colorized” Version – (HD)

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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 because one never knows when a friend or relative will have a bias against black and white films. This version will at least allow these misguided people to enjoy the film (even if it is a mutilated version).

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The transfer certainly looks as good as can be expected. 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.

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 even if it isn’t quite as comprehensive as it should have been.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (01:48)

The original theatrical trailer is included here in high definition, and it is a nice little time capsule that offers fans of the film the opportunity to see how the film was marketed upon its release.

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Final Words:

It’s A Wonderful Life is much more than a beloved holiday classic. It is Frank Capra’s masterpiece and it should have a place in everyone’s Blu-ray collection. Having said this, there is absolutely no reason for anyone who owns one of Paramount’s two previous releases to double-dip unless the prospect of owning the six included art cards is too irresistible to pass up. Frankly, Paramount hasn’t taken proper advantage of the film’s 70th Anniversary edition. At the very least, they should have included a lossless audio transfer and the absent A Personal Remembrance featurette that graced DVD editions of the film. This featurette is conspicuously missing from all three Blu-ray releases (and at least one of these advertised that it would be included). Even the relatively nice image transfer probably could have been improved by an all new 4K transfer. However, those who haven’t already added this important classic to their collections should certainly indulge, because it doesn’t look like Paramount is going to spring for anything better than this.

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 Review by: Devon Powell

[Note: Astute readers will notice that the score for each element of this disc has been reduced by half a star for this particular Blu-ray edition of the film. This does not mean that the discs are inferior to the other releases. It simply means that they should have improved upon the earlier releases and didn’t. One is willing to give Paramount the benefit of the doubt once, but to do so twice would be absolutely ridiculous.]

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