Modern films often do not see the true benefit of a 4k release. CGI is typically crafted in 2K so any CGI heavy film you watch on 4K is a 2K master up res’d to 4k. Now, the HDR, or high Dynamic Range color, can offer visual improvements and deeper color, but the resolution upgrade alone is often indistinguishable from a 1080p blu-ray release. Films with litlle or no CGI, do usually see a massive upgrade in quality if they were shot in 4k though. The films that see the most significant upgrade in visual quality though are films that were, well, shot on film. Movies shot on film are capable of 4K resolution and the restoration process of going from film to digital brings some amazing results if time and care is taken.
The 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday staple, right along with Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and others. It’s a Wonderful Life though may be the first film to really be appreciated by secondary release. When the film hit theaters no one cared about it, but after subsequent holiday viewings on television, the film became a mainstay.
The film stars Jimmy Stewart as a frustrated business man who is visited by an angel who shows him what life would be like for those he cares about had he never existed. The Frank Capra directed film also stars donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. Sure the film is saccharin to the top and it has a very chessy moral message, but it’s uplifting and perfect for holiday family viewing. Modern film viewers are often so cynical that it’s refreshing to see that they can still appreciate something that so unabashedly sweet.
From a film history perspective it’s fascinating to look at the visual style of the film and realize that it did so many things first. The standout visual here is the use of the punch in. This is the technique of shooting at the same angle but cutting to a close up. This tool wasn’t commonly used until the last few years really, and mostly you see it now in television, specifically interviews.
It’s a cheesy film, but it’s well acted and so much part of our culture now that it simply demands our attention, especially the weekend after Thanksgiving with family and friends.
This film has looked very rough for many many years. The visuals I remember from my youth were blown out, soft, and covered in scratches and dirt. This new 4K transfer is absolutely stunning. The film hasn’t looked this good since it was originally released to theaters. The team at Paramount went through the movie frame by frame, cleaning the dirt, restoring missing parts of images, and applying HDR which even on a black and white film, makes a huge impact. Black levels and contrast are outstanding and the shades of gray are strong. There are scenes that are a bit soft due to heavy film grain but overall this restoration is incredible. Also, it is revealed in the bonus features why there are still grainy soft scenes…
The audio did get cleaned up but it wasn’t shown the detailed love that the video was shown. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear throughout the film and the overall balance is well. This isa center channel affair for those of us with one theaters. It sounds nice but nothing to write home about.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The two disc set is presented in a standard black 4k blu amaray case. The cover art matches the slipcover. The design is very retro and fitting of the film. Oddly, the HDR notice is actually designed into the art rather than being the typical sticker, which would have been preferred.
The featurettes are all on the 4k disc, opposite of what we have come to expect from 4k releases but nice because you can watch the movie and specials without switching discs. The standout featurette here is the featurette covering the restoration of the film. It’s fascinating to see the vault where Paramount stores their films and to see all of the work that went into bringing this film to life on 4k. I couldn’t get enough of this honestly. There’s actual home movie footage here taken at the wrap party for the film. It’s amazing to see the creators, actors, friends, and family all celebrating completing the film. The innocence of the potato sack race and picnic goes a long way to showing where the heart of the film came from.
The blu-ray features the colorized version of the film. While it’s neat to take a look at it for the sake of film history I don’t recommend watching it. The presentation is not as beautiful as the 4k release and it’s not how the film was intended to be viewed. I was never a fan of colorizing films when it was all the rage.
More film history would have made this release a true special edition. We needed some commentaries, a documentary on Frank Capra as a director, just more. The bonus features really needed to match the restoration.
This presentation of It’s a Wonderful Life is a true gift to film fans. It’s a classic film that has never looked so good.