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Paramount Home Video presents
"You've been given a great gift, George."
DVD ReviewParamount has double-dipped on their 2006's 60th Anniversary Edition for this new two-disc set by repackaging the exact same restored black-and-white disc (the label art spells it out pretty clearly). It's a terrific print to be sure, and really the only hook for this latest issue is the inclusion of a newly colorized version on Disc 2.
(The following is from my 2002 review of the Artisan. The image/audio/extras portions, however, are new.)
What is there to say that hasn't already been said about It's a Wonderful Life? Not much, I'm guessing. It is certainly a wonderfully ageless American film, with a tale that never ceases to bring a tear to the eye, and thanks to its brief life in the public domain, became a perennial holiday classic. Maybe it's just me, but the older I get it seems the more weepy I get each time I watch this film, and as George Bailey sees his life spinning out of control, there is that painful flicker of familiarity in which in some perfectly cinematic moment we can almost see ourselves standing on that very same bridge, ready to jump.
Not to start another paragraph with a question, but what is the likelihood that someone reading this review has never seen It's a Wonderful Life? Probably about as unlikely as the possibility of coming up with something new to say about it. Director Frank Capra landed one of American cinema's favorite Everyman in the lead, Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey, a man living out his life in apparent bliss with wife Mary (Donna Reed) in picture perfect Rockwellian splendor of Bedford Falls. It's when a series of events at Christmas lead him to question why he had ever been born that a bumbling guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) just so happens to give George that very opportunity, and along the way he (and we) learn a valuable lesson that beautifully leads to one of filmdom's most surefire guaranteed-to-make-you-weepy payoffs of all time.
Capra really tweaks all available emotional knobs here, just like a master puppeteer, and the injection of simple humor and bitter drama really meshes well, even after repeated viewings. Dastardly Lionel Barrymore, as the iron-fisted Mr. Potter, a real-life Montgomery Burns if there ever was, pops up as the much needed heavy from time to time, but the catalyst of tragedy comes most markedly from the actions of forgetful old Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell).
Watching Stewart's largely likeable George Bailey slowly reach the end of his rope is a tough watch at times, even knowing the outcome, and this is where Capra balances between comedy and pathos so tightly. We have to cringe when once happy George suddenly rips into his children, the piano playing, the broken banister cap, and his wild-eyed desperation and hopelessness dramatically alters the tone of the film, and we know we are more than hooked at that point. We are weeping, emotional wrecks well on the way to a good cry.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The transfer for the 1.33:1 OAR black-and-white version is the same as 2006's 60th Anniversary Edition (in fact it's exactly the same, and still reads "60th Anniversary Edition" on the disc face). Struck and remastered from a restored print, this transfer is truly remarkable, breathing new life into this 1946 gem. Contrast levels are strong, and edge details are especially sharp, with a fine balance of clean whites, blacks, and greys, almost making this look brand new. Marry this with a near total absence of blemishes or dirt, and this is about as wonderful as it gets.
On Disc 2, the new colorized version is marginal, at best. I guess I'm not a huge fan of the process in general, and while the treatment here looks consistent, there is something unmistakably unnatural about the quality of fleshtones and overall color levels. In small doses, it's moderately pleasing, but over time it seems to become more of a distraction. With the quality of the restored black-and-white version in this set, I can't imagine why anyone would choose the colorized option other than simply for curiosity's sake.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: No THX mastering here (as with the Artisan version); as a clone of the 60th Anniversary Edition release from Paramount, this one has the Dolby Digital mono track in English, along with a French dub. Voice quality is clean, with negligible hiss and the odd pop, but typically a solid offering. There's not a lot that can be done with something of this vintage, and what's here is well above par.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Last Holiday
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Extras Review: Slipcase-lovers rejoice as this two-disc set sports one here, complete with a circular cutout in the center to reveal lovebirds Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
Disc 1 (the black-and-white version) is where the extras are housed, and they're a dupe of the 2002 Artisan release and the 2006 60th Anniversary Edition. I never thought I'd say the words "Tom Bosley" and "great documentary" in the same breath, but this issue of the Capra classic has just that. The 1990 Making of It's A Wonderful Life (22m:44s) is narrated by Bosley, decked out in a really tight sweater as he stands awkwardly next to a fireplace, but it's the content that really makes it a treat. From the story's origins to its eventual production, James Stewart, Frank Capra, and Sheldon Leonard contribute remembrances, but it is the little production anecdotes and random factoids (like pointing out Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer's cameo) that make this a pleasant and informative feature.
A Personal Remembrance (14m:05s) is a 1991 featurette narrated by Frank Capra Jr., and it includes what was likely the last interview with the senior Capra prior to his death. Obviously this piece is a bit more heartfelt, and naturally more personal (hence the title), and hearing Capra himself recall the production is worthwhile.
There is also the original 1946 theatrical trailer. The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and includes subtitles in English (losing the French and Spanish options found on the Aristan version).
Disc 2 (the colorized version) contains only the feature film.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsIf you own the 60th Anniversary Edition from Paramount, and don't give a hoot about colorization, you can safely steer clear of this one. If you don't own either, there's nothing to say but, "shame on you!"
Shame on you.
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