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Featured Blu-ray Review: It's A Wonderful Life Gift Set

October 28th, 2011

It's A Wonderful Life - Blu-ray Gift Set - Buy from Amazon

I have a simple rule: No Christmas releases before Halloween. It's A Wonderful Life Blu-ray Gift Set is coming out on November 1st, making it a perfectly timed release. However, this is not the first time the film has been released on Blu-ray. Is it worth picking up if you don't already have it? Is it worth the upgrade?

The Movie

It's A Wonderful Life is arguably the third most famous Christmas story, after the Bible story and A Christmas Carol. Going into detail on the plot seems almost insulting.

It starts in Bedford Falls, with many people praying for George Bailey, before we travel to heaven where two senior angels discuss all of the prayers. They have to send a angel to help George, but the angel on duty is Clarence (Henry Travers). Clarence isn't the smartest angel and is still working on getting his wings. First, he has to learn all about George Bailey starting when he was just 12 years old and saved his younger brother from drowning. For the next hour we listen in on Clarence learning about George's life, the details of which are laced with spoilers. Then we return to the present day and see George Bailey on the worst day of his life, as he watches everything he built over his life collapse. At his lowest point, he begins to think his life had no value and everyone would have been better off had he never been born. Clarence decides the best way to show George his life has value is to show what the world would be like if he had never been born. That's about all you need to know about the plot. The first hour of the movie is a series for vignettes with George Bailey making a difference someone's life, so he can see the effect he had after Clarence erases him.

This is not the first time I've reviewed this film and my opinion hasn't changed since then. I consider it the best Christmas film of all time. It's a classic fable, even if it gets a little schmaltzy at times. The film has a huge amount of heart showing George Bailey as a man who never quite got what he wanted at the time (to go to college, travel around the world, have a big honeymoon, etc.) but in the end got everything he could desire. The acting is outstanding from everyone involved and it is a shame Jimmy Stewart didn't win an Oscar for his performance. (The film was shutout on Oscar night despite picking up five nominations.) The only weakness in the film is Henry F. Potter. That's not to blame Lionel Barrymore, who is great in the movie. However, Mr. Potter is a caricature rather than a well-developed person, but having a nasty, bad guy is more important than learning what his motivations were.

On a side note, this movie helps show why draconian copyright laws can hurt a film. When it first came out, it wasn't a big hit and wasn't well received by critics. It only gained fame after it became public domain and TV networks were able to show the movie for free. How many other films are undiscovered because the person who owns the rights thinks it's not worth releasing? If they were public domain, someone would take a chance and release the films on discount DVDs and maybe some lost classics would be rediscovered by the public. A little off topic, but the same is true of Photoshop. So many people use pirated copies of Photoshop for personal use that when they need a legitimate copy of a painting program for a business, it makes more sense to spend several hundred dollars on a program they are familiar with than buy the competition, which might be much cheaper.

The Extras

The only extra on the Blu-ray is a 22-minute retrospective that has been featured on a number of previous releases. It also includes the colorized version on the second Blu-ray, but there's not extras there. The new gift set also comes with a bell Christmas tree ornament.

The Blu-ray discs are the same as the previous release from 2009, which is good news and bad news. The video looks great with excellent clarity, strong black, solid contrast, and only a few scenes that are on the soft side. The original mono soundtrack is good, but not lossless, which is a little strange. The colorized version is better than most, but the technique still produces flesh tones that look off.

The latest version costs $28, compared to $21 for the previous Blu-ray release. The only thing new is the ornament. This is a little pricey for a catalogue title without much in the way of extras, but the film is a must have.

The Verdict

When It's A Wonderful Life first came out on Blu-ray in 2009, the overall Blu-ray ratio was only 17%. That number has more than doubled, so there are a lot of people who have made the leap to high definition since then. The Blu-ray Gift Set doesn't offer enough to be worth the upgrade, but it is certainly worth picking up if you don't have it already.


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Filed under: Video Review, It's a Wonderful Life