It’s a bona fide seasonal classic, and now It’s a Wonderful Life has arrived on 4K Ultra HD. So, how does Frank Capra’s enduring 1946 masterpiece fare on the format? Is it a Christmas miracle, or a Christmas turkey?
The story: There’s always room for a feel-good film, and It’s a Wonderful Life really is one of the best. Far from a continuously sappy romp of niceness, however, the story involves bank manager George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) believing he’s failed everybody and preparing to end his life. Luckily, an angel is sent down to Earth in order to show George the profound good effects that he has had on the lives of so many in his orbit, and how different things would be without his presence.
“Look, Daddy! Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.'”
The 4K disc: OK, we can’t wait to say this any longer: it’s a wonderful transfer. Actually, what we get to witness here visually borders on the incredible. This is a film that, while much loved as a genuine classic now, tanked upon original release. Over the years the negatives weren’t exactly looked after too well, but the Paramount restoration team have literally performed wonders – they’ve definitely earned their wings! Presented in its original “academy” ratio of 1.37:1 – or roughly the same shape as an old school television screen – it comes in its original black and white, with subtle and effective Dolby Vision enhancement. The picture is rock solid, detailed like we’ve never seen it before and, essentially, flawless – unless you have a problem with film grain, as it’s present throughout without ever being particularly noticeable. When you see some pre-restoration footage (more on that soon) you really appreciate how important modern technology is to preserving film history.
If you’re expecting a floor-rattling Dolby Atmos mix then you’re wishing for just a bit too much. Instead, we’re given a wonderfully clear Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mono mix, which delivers the movie’s sound as it should, with a fine balance between orchestral score and dialogue.
Three extra features are packed onto the 4K disc. Restoring a Beloved Classic is a 13-minute look at the process used to save the movie in order to deliver us the miracle that it has. This is a must-watch. Secrets from the Vault: It’s a Wonderful Life is further necessary watching for those interested in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, while It’s a Wonderful Wrap Party is eight minutes of fairly self-explanatory footage that’s referenced in the preceding feature. A standard Blu-ray is also included in this package, which replicates the content of the 4K disc (but without, of course, 4K vision and any HDR processing).
Release date: November 13, 2019
Format: 4K Ultra HD
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Want to know what to get next? Check out STACK‘s 4K Ultra HD specifications guide.