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Blu-ray Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

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It’s that time of the year again. Yep. Cable and local stations are playing that annual Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve always loved the movie, but (not celebrating Christmas) I’ve never particularly thought of It’s a Wonderful Life as a Christmas movie. The timeless Frank Capra underdog movie is the ultimate tale of redemption and finding hope in the depths of despair. Paramount Pictures has released this classic in a wonderful new Blu-ray set. The two-disc set includes both the colorized and original black and white versions in Blu-ray.

It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a dreamer, wishing his whole life to get out of Bedford Falls, the small town in which he lives his seemingly mundane life. He’d always wanted something more, something better, but family responsibilities and crises always seemed to have gotten in the way. Now married to Mary (Donna Reed), George’s building and loan company is under pressure to sell to the rich and mean-spirited Mr. Potter. Potter, of course, owns the town and many of its people. But it could get much worse.

A simple accounting error puts the building and loan at the brink of failure and federal violations, which is only too good Potter, who’s “willing” to buy the small savings institution for pennies on the dollar. Driven to despair, George sits on the brink of suicide until he happens to meet Clarence, a clumsy angel whose yet (after 200 years) to have earned his wings. Can Clarence save George’s life?

The movie does an oblique riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but Clarence is no ghost of Christmases past, present and future. Instead, he shows the despondent George what Christmases past might have been, and future Christmases will be had George Bailey never been born to and been around to project a positive force on the town—and take a stand against the materialistic cruelty of Mr. Potter.

In the end George understands that he has a rich and fulfilling life, despite a lifetime of disappointment. And (spoiler alert) Clarence finally gets his wings.

In these days of Occupy Wall Street, It’s a Wonderful Life seems somehow all the more relevant for its take on the little guy represented by George taking on corporate interests and wealth represented by Mr. Potter. It’s a Frank Capra trademark, also seen in movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which also stars Stewart.

The Blu-ray release of this classic 1950s movie looks great both in the Black and White version and colorized version, although I admit I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to classic movie images. There is nothing like black and white to capture textures, shadows and contrast, whether in moving or still pictures, and the Blu-ray delivers a gorgeous high definition image. It is a crisp, sharp image even in the most visually detailed of scenes. The blacks are perfectly rendered and the white is pristine as snow, as is everything in between. The colorized version of the movie looks as good, with excellent saturation. The image is vivid and sharp with vibrant colors. So, you have your choice. The 1080p transfer of both included versions exhibit a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, framed with black bars on either side of the image preserves the original look and feel of the movie

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono in both versions, perfectly adequate for the material; the dialogue is clear, but of course there is no sense of surround—or even stereophonic sound. I think, given the age of the film and its status as a family classic, preserving the original soundtrack just as it is was a better choice than enhancing (read tampering) it more than necessary. Of course given the original sound track, there’s not a lot more that can be done anyway.

Included on the Black and White Blu-ray is a “making of” featurette. The set comes with a booklet on the

It’s a Wonderful Life in a Blu-ray giftset is a perfect addition to your holiday (or any time of the year) video library. It’s a timeless story in lovely flocked windowbox packaging, including a bell ornament and booklet on the movie.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.