It’s a Wonderful Life appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Expect a terrific presentation.
Overall sharpness seemed positive. A few slightly soft spots emerged, but those stemmed from the source and remained modest. The majority of the flick boasted tight, clear delineation.
Jagged edges and shimmering remained absent, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent, and digital noise reduction appeared conservative. I feared the transfer would go overboard in that regard, but we still got a nice layer of grain throughout the film.
Blacks looked dark and deep, and shadows offered nice clarity. I thought contrast worked fine, as the movie usually presented a nice silver sheen, and the disc’s HDR gave these tones extra depth. This became a really appealing image.
Though not exceptional, the film’s Dolby TrueHD monaural soundtrack was more than adequate for a 73-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, as 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 an acceptable auditory piece.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? The lossless audio on the 4K UHD showed a little more clarity than the lossy mono on the Blu-ray, but don’t expect a big jump in quality, as the nature of the source restricted improvements.
As for the visuals, they showed tremendous improvement. The 4K UHD looked tighter, with superior blacks/contrast and a much cleaner image. Without question, this turned into a radical step up in visual presentation.
None of the earlier release’s extras repeat here, but we get some new materials. Restoring a Beloved Classic spans 13 minutes, three seconds and provides notes from Paramount Archives SVP Andrea Kalas, Paramount Film Preservation Executive Director Laura Thornburg, film scanner Eric Chilpa, and digital film colorist Michael Underwood.
Like the title implies, “Classic” examines attempts to bring Life up to snuff for 4K presentation. Some of this feels self-congratulatory, but I like the view of the techniques involved in the restoration.
Via Secrets from the Vault, we find a 22-minute, 11-second piece that features comments from VFX supervisor Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt. Both sit together to give us insights into the production, with an emphasis on technical areas.
Though “Vault” doesn’t provide a thorough overview of the movie’s history and production, it works pretty well. Burtt and Barron offer good insights and make this an informative chat.
Finally, It’s a Wonderful Wrap Party goes for eight minutes, four seconds. As expected, it offers footage from the celebration that greeted the shoot’s conclusion.
The film looks awful and lacks source audio, so we hear Wonderful Life score played over the material. As archival elements, these prove enticing.
Over on a separate Blu-ray Disc, we get a colorized version of It’s a Wonderful Life. I take this job seriously and usually watch all of a set’s extras for my reviews, but this is where I draw the line.
I couldn’t possibly be less interested in a colorized rendition of Life, so I regard Disc Two as useless. If you want a color edition of the flick, though, have fun!
As mentioned, this set drops all the extras from the prior Blu-ray. That means we lose a trailer and a circa 1990 “making of” show.
This set should include the black and white Life disc, as that’d give us a Blu-ray version of the film as intended as well as these minor extras. It seems ludicrous a 4K UHD release that will appeal to videophiles bothers with a colorized version, as it seems unlikely many serious film fans will want to watch it.
I also really wish Paramount would deliver a half-decent package of supplements for the film. I don’t expect them to lasso the moon, but would it be that tough to get a film historian to record an audio commentary?
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. The 4K UHD presents excellent picture along with age-appropriate audio and minor supplements. I wish Paramount would give this class the special edition treatment, but in terms of movie presentation, this one becomes a total winner.
To rate this film visit the original review of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE