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Frank Capra
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi
Writing Credits:
Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett and Frank Capra, based on the story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

They're making memories tonight!
Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor-James Stewart; Best Film Editing; Best Sound.

Standard 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 10/31/2006

• "The Making of It's a Wonderful Life" Documentary
• A Special Tribute to Frank Capra, "A Personal Remembrance" from Frank Capra Jr.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Preview


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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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It's a Wonderful Life: 60th Anniversary Edition (1946)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 26, 2006)

Like many people, I maintain a love/hate relationship with holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. On one hand, I dislike its oversentimentality and hokeyness and find it to offer an unrealistic portrait of a fantasy America that never really existed. Life seems pathetically obvious in its attempts to wring tears out of its audience.

On the other hand, I have to admit that the stupid thing works, damn it all to hell! While the movie shamelessly manipulates the audience, it's hard to feel too angry about it because of the raw jolt of unabashed emotion that it provides. Watching Life is like overdosing on some sort of sick sentimentality drug.

Whether that's or bad depends on your point of view, I suppose, and what you want to get out Christmas programs. We usually find two kinds of "adult" Christmas films or shows. There are the somber ones that deal with the historical details of Christ’s birth. There’s also the soppy flicks, meaning those that end with a "life rules!" message. Not all of the latter are bad, of course - A Christmas Carol falls into that category - but their unrelenting weepiness can make them tough to watch. (More ambiguous fare like A Christmas Story is harder to categorize; it kind of stands alone right now.)

Life clearly falls into that latter category and probably ranks as its prime example. Don't get me wrong - I'm not arguing that reaffirming the value of one's life and appreciating what one has are bad things. It's just that there's something about this movie that can really grate at times. I suppose it's one of those films for which you really have to be in the mood; if you're not, you'll hate it.

But if you are in the right frame of mind, Life can be a total treat. Maybe that's why I'm so ambivalent about the film: my own moodiness! Whatever the case, despite its treacly tendencies, I must acknowledge that Life accomplishes its goals quite well and it's a very nicely made piece of work.

In a strange way, Life reminded me of Armageddon. (Editorial note: this must be the first time anyway joined these two films in such a way.) This occurred to me because of the overall effect generated by the films. In both cases, I recognized that the filmmakers emotionally manipulated me, but in both cases, I pretty much didn't care, at least not while I watched the movies. When the film finishes, I tend to feel a little oogy about my reaction to Life, but while I screen it, I usually go with the flow and get into the story.

Perhaps the one factor that really makes Life work comes from its fine acting. James Stewart is at his best as George Bailey. The role demands quite a number of different tones and attitudes, and Stewart handles them all with ease. Donna Reed also seems terrific as George's wife Mary. While the role doesn't appear as demanding as Stewart's, she ably functions as the emotional bedrock of the story and nicely complements Jimmy.

And that's all I'll say about my opinions of It's A Wonderful Life. I've probably rambled too much as it is, since this film is about as "critic-proof" as they come. Most people probably have already seen it and formed their own opinions. As such, it's time to get on to the heart of the review: the quality of the DVD. (Okay, one more opinion before I go: am I the only one who thinks Pottersville looks a lot more fun than stodgy old Bedford Falls?)

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

It’s a Wonderful Life appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Wow – what a terrific transfer!

Virtually no flaws popped up here. Sharpness looked immaculate. The only minor softness I saw related to some light “glamour photography” for a few shots that featured Donna Reed. Those instances clearly were intentional, as the rest of the flick was crisp and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement.

Despite the film’s age, Life offered a virtually spotless presentation. Some stock photography from WWII showed marks, but that was due to the source and absolutely unavoidable. The elements shot for Life itself came with nary a speck, as it always seemed clean and smooth. Blacks were wonderfully deep and full, while low-light shots demonstrated fine delineation and clarity. I found myself tremendously impressed by this image, as it made Life look better than ever.

While not as amazing as the picture, the monaural soundtrack of It’s a Wonderful Life was more than adequate for a 60-year-old movie. Speech seemed a little hollow but lacked edginess or other flaws, and the lines were always perfectly intelligible. Though the music didn’t present much range, the score was clear and never became shrill or tinny. Effects fell into the same realm; they may not have packed a great punch, but they sounded clean and reasonably accurate. No signs of background noise or other source flaws marred the presentation. Given the age of the material, this was a solid auditory piece.

How did the picture and sound of this “60th Anniversary Edition” of It’s a Wonderful Life compare to the prior release? Both offered noticeable improvements. The visuals were a real revelation, as this version was considerably sharper and cleaner. The audio also presented a tighter experience and it eliminated some defects from the source. This DVD was a considerable step up from its predecessor in terms of movie presentation.

It’s a Wonderful Life also provides a few decent supplemental features. Most significant are the two documentary programs: The Making of It's A Wonderful Life and Frank Capra: A Personal Remembrance. Although the titles of these programs seem to indicate that they will focus on different issues, they really seem quite similar. While both shows mainly document aspects of the creation of Life, they take slightly different viewpoints and they largely manage to avoid repetition of the same facts.

Hosted by Tom "Mr. C." Bosley, “Making” runs for about 22 minutes and 43 seconds, while “Remembrance” features narration from Frank Capra, Jr., and lasts for 14 minutes, five seconds. In general, “Making” mostly details the actual creation of the movie itself, while “Remembrance” deals more with the film's impact and staying power. I'm not sure about the genesis of the former program, but the latter clearly was originally created for use prior to a TV screening of the film; at the end of it, lil' Frank introduces a showing of the film.

Whatever the case, I found both programs to be quite enjoyable and informative. Neither offers a definitive picture - separately or combined - but they provide a nice amount of information and helped add to my interest in the film. Both seem similarly constructed: they use their narrators to guide us through an assemblage of movie scenes, still photos, and interviews with some of the main participants. Not surprisingly, big Frank dominates “Remembrance”, but we hear from James Stewart and others during it. Those two and more also appear in “Making” but the project seems a little more balanced than the Frank-heavy “Remembrance”. All in all, I really like these documentaries.

The Life DVD also includes a pretty good trailer and a preview for Last Holiday.

This “60th Anniversary Edition” of Life includes no new extras, but it drops one from prior releases. We lose a four-page booklet that shows a few pictures plus some very brief production notes. Those mainly duplicate information found in the documentaries but they also offer a few more specifics, such as the amount of money the film lost during its initial release.

Ultimately I maintain a lot of misgivings about It's A Wonderful Life as a film but I find it hard not to recommend it. Despite my love/hate relationship with the movie, I still usually get that urge to watch it at Christmas. Since that's not as easy as it used to be when the film aired almost nonstop from Thanksgiving to Christmas, it's a nice DVD to own. This “60th Anniversary Edition” doesn’t include any new supplements, but it offers significantly improved picture and audio. That makes it the Life to own, and it’s definitely worth the “double dip” for fans who already have the earlier release.

To rate this film visit the original review of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

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