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It's a Wonderful Life

Magna/Magna . R4 . COLOR . 130 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
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Itís a thought that surely most of us would have had skidding across our minds at some point in our lives. What if Iíd never been born? Would my absence really have made any difference? Whilst most of us can only ever hypothesise as to the answer to such profound (and possibly alcohol-induced) ponderings, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) actually gets to witness how the history of his hometown of Bedford Falls would have differed had he not been around to help shape its development.

We follow the history of George from when he was a little tacker on to adulthood, through after school jobs, dreams of doing something big, courting and marriage, family dramas and work dilemmas. He takes over his familyís building and loan society somewhat by default, waylaying his travel plans a little begrudgingly, but in order to serve the greater good Ė valuing his fatherís ethos of adhering to principles over self gain. Things slow down once we get to the filmís present, Christmas-time, when a major blunder made by his perennially forgetful Uncle Billy (who also works at the building and loan) leaves the organisation Ė and indeed much of the townís populace Ė at the mercy of the richest and meanest man in the county, the money-grubbing banker/buzzard Potter.

While his family prepare their Christmas celebrations, pressure gets the better of George, he heads off on a bender and ends up contemplating what heís actually achieved in his life, and subsequently considers taking a dive from a bridge. Itís here that his guardian angel, Clarence Ė an angel second class with the IQ of a rabbit and faith of a child who is desperate to earn his wings after trying for 200 years - pops up, sent by his superiors to come to George's rescue. Clarence takes George on a magical journey through his past, or more accurately the townís past had George never been born, allowing a glimpse at just how things might have been...

"One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole."

Most will know that Itís A Wonderful Life has become a prominent part of the popular culture, a Christmas-time television tradition in the US and a much beloved inspirational film to many the world over Ė and all after flopping on its initial release. And why did this all happen? Well, somebody did an Uncle Billy and made a somewhat gargantuan booboo, leaving the filmís copyright to expire so all and sundry could show it ad infinitum without paying any royalties. What a serendipitous mistake, as it was this wide exposure which finally got to showcase what a remarkable little film Itís A Wonderful Life actually is. While director and co-writer Frank Capra must of course take some of the credit for the brilliance of the film, it is really the phenomenal performance of Stewart that elevates what could have been a big lump of mush to true classic status. He infuses George with a deft combination of innocence and goodness, but also humanity and fallibility, which has the viewer Ďrootingí for him from the very outset. Few films from the Ď40s are as poignant and inspiring today as when they were made, however Itís A Wonderful Life is an exception Ė a truly timeless film which demands a place in every movie-loverís collection.

  Video
Contract

If you load this up and sit back with some munchies expecting a stunning, problem-free transfer then youíre going to be disappointed. Face it, itís a film from 1946, and this release hasnít been given any sort of the loving remastering treatment that a classic of this magnitude actually warrants (although there is a remastered version floating about overseas). Good news, however, is that it is in black and white as it was made, rather than being one of those horrid colourised abominations that was foisted upon the world later.

Back to the bad news, though, right from the start this full frame transfer exhibits signs of wobbles and flecks aplenty, and that oft-seen problem with black and white transfers Ė small bands of colour appearing in certain places Ė is well and truly in evidence. Even reel change blobs are here for the viewing, and speaking of reels, detail generally varies from a little fuzzy to reasonably clear as the film progresses, as does contrast and black levels.

Sure, it isnít a fabulous transfer by any means, however itís certainly not a travesty either. Anybody who has up until now had to dig out the old VHS copy for a fix of Itís A Wonderful Life should at least feel safe in the knowledge that this is offers a vast improvement.

  Audio
Contract

It was made in mono, itís brought to us in mono, it has bonus crackles and pops, and sounds a little muffled at times. For the most part dialogue is clear enough, however once again it is criminal that more effort hasnít been made to improve things for the DVD market. Dimitri Tiomkinís score suffers as a result, sounding quite strident and harsh at times, occasionally drowning out dialogue simply due to the lack of general range in the audio.

  Extras
Contract

An absolute classic, and it has only one paltry extra feature hiding within the static and silent menu Ė an extremely brief biography and filmography on Jimmy Stewart. This is very disappointing, especially as various release overseas have included everything from the original trailer to featurettes, interview with Frank Capra Jnr and even a commentary.

  Overall  
Contract

As much as youíd be forgiven for thinking it, this isnít a Christmas-themed film Ė it just happens to have a Christmas in it. Rather itís a film that gives inspiration to everybody, the sort that will pick you up when youíre flatter than an ironed pancake, or have you in tears of joy when youíre at your most up. This is, of course, a rare and special feat indeed. Whilst this release isnít of the greatest quality, it does come at a budget price, and if it is this that convinces even one uninitiated person to take a punt on one of the most uplifting films ever made then itís done its job admirably.

If the world had never had Itís A Wonderful Life it would truly be the worse off for it.


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      And I quote...
    "Whilst this release isnít of the greatest quality, it does come at a budget price, and if it is this that convinces even one uninitiated person to take a punt on one of the most uplifting films ever made then itís done its job admirably..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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