It’s a Wonderful Life Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Ralph Potts reviews the Ultra HD Blu-ray debut of It’s a Wonderful Life, from Paramount Media Home Distribution, Frank Capra’s heartwarming masterpiece that carries the endearing message that no one is a failure who has friends.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

90

Details:

Studio and Year: Paramount – 1946
MPAA Rating: PG
Feature running time: 130 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 1.37:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD Mono, Spanish/French Dolby Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Belulah Bond, Gloria Grahame, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers
Directed by: Frank Capra
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Region Code: A

Release Date: October 29, 2019

“A Cinematic Gem Gets a Facelift”

Synopsis:

Return to Bedford Falls to experience the life-affirming message of director Frank Capra’s enduringly popular classic that tells the story of an angel that is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.” – Paramount Home Media Distribution.

My Take:

I love It’s a Wonderful Life. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to appreciate its bittersweet post-war tale of a savings-and-loan manager that struggles against a money-grubbing banker, his own self-doubting nature, and the feeling of small-town life claustrophobia. It’s not until after being shown what life would have been like in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, had he never been born, that George Bailey (James Stewart) recognizes his life as wonderful and truly rich. Luckily for him he is given this glimpse of a life well spent by a whimsical, charming, and conscientious angel in training named Clarence.

Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Henry Travers, director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has made an indelible impact on popular culture and continues to be a cherished part of our holiday tradition, remaining as powerful, and moving, as the day it was made.

The 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack includes the black-and-white film in 4K high definition, as well as a colorized version on Blu-ray, along with three special features new to 4K Ultra HD disc: “Restoring a Beloved Classic,” “Secrets from the Vault,” and “It’s A Wonderful Wrap Party.” A 2-Disc Blu-ray set will also be available that includes the newly remastered film in black-and-white, along with a colorized version and the three special features listed above.

Replay Value:

Parental Guide:

The rating is for thematic elements, smoking, and some violence.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

UHD Presentation(HDR-10): 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • HDR: Dark Highlights: 
  • HDR: Bright Highlights: 
  • HDR: Expanded Color: 
  • Resolution: 
  • Visual Impact: 

UHD Presentation (Dolby Vision): 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • HDR: Dark Highlights: 
  • HDR: Bright Highlights: 
  • HDR: Expanded Color: 
  • Resolution: 
  • Visual Impact: 

Audio: 80
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects: 
  • Surround Sound presentation: 
  • Clarity/Detail: 
  • Dialog Reproduction: 
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element): NA

It’s a Wonderful Life comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Paramount Home Media Distribution featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby TrueHD Mono sound.

According to the press release Paramount spent over a year painstakingly restoring this treasured film, using the original nitrate negative along with two fine grain masters made in the 1940s. Each element was carefully scanned using the very latest technology to both preserve the delicate negative and create the best possible digital image. Fortunately, 13 of the 14 reels of the original negative survived, but portions had begun to deteriorate so the best image was selected from one of the three original sources on a shot-by-shot basis. The result is a more vibrant and detail-rich picture that brings this classic to life like never before.

Shot in black and white, It’s a Wonderful Life can at times be a decidedly dark film with many sequences taking place in environs with only natural or incandescent type lighting. Looking at the film’s opening sequence at the frozen pond, the improvement in definition is noticeable. Images onscreen have excellent depth with rendering that draws out plenty of delineation. Close ups reveal perceptible detail in the faces, hair and clothing worn by the cast as well as the physical make up of objects/surfaces within the frame which imparts a noticeable sense of dimension.

Blacks have excellent dynamic range and consistency which plays very well against the various stages of white and gray. The film uses lots of sequences that feature streaming light, shading and mixed content. The level of shadow detail here versus the 1080p rendering is improved, enhancing the variety of lighting schemes, transitions and purposeful shadows utilized in the film. Grain remains perfectly intact, with an even and filmic essence that underscores the thematic content.

The addition of high dynamic range added a pleasing visual element that enlivened both brightly lit and low-level images onscreen. I also felt that the cinematography benefited from the application of HDR which emboldened blacks and shadow delineation. In addition to the increase in resolution, this made the differences between the 1080p video and this rendering standout.

This Ultra HD presentation improves upon any previous Blu-ray release. I think that due to the innate nature of the source, those differences, depending on your level of interest, may or may not be significant enough to warrant an upgrade. For me, this is most definitely a keeper.

Dolby Vision vs HDR-10:

I utilize the TCL 55P607 UHD Dolby Vision HDR flat panel in my review system to enable me to compare the visual quality of titles that contained the Dolby Vision metadata versus its HDR-10 counterpart on the same disc. All titles are first watched via my JVC front projector. I then select specific scenes which are watched on the TCL, first via HDR-10 then via Dolby Vision. The TCL isn’t among the top tier flat panels with DV, however it came recommended by AVS Forum Senior Editor Mark Henninger, and calibrates/performs extremely well for a set at its price point.

* The cumulative A/V score will still be based upon the HDR-10 rating, with the DV rating serving as informational only for now.*

Comparing the DV and HDR-10 presentations for It’s a Wonderful Life, I found the rendering of HDR to be essentially identical. As stated earlier, this film’s predominating elements aren’t necessarily lent to the type of eye catching HDR that allows the format to shine. At the end of the day you can’t go wrong with either.

Dolby TrueHD Mono:

The monaural Dolby soundtrack won’t knock your socks off but it delivered the components of the original recording beautifully. The auditory is clean and free of unwanted clicks, pops or background hiss. Dialog intelligibility is excellent as it is never lost amidst the other sounds coming through the central channel.

For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Bonus Features:

  • Disc 1: It’s a Wonderful Life Ultra HD Blu-ray
  • NEW Restoring a Beloved Classic – Featurette
  • NEW Secrets from the Vault – Featurette
  • NEW It’s a Wonderful Life Wrap Party
  • Disc 2: It’s a Wonderful Life (Colorized version) Blu-ray

Final Thoughts:

Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Henry Travers, director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has made an indelible impact on popular culture and continues to be a cherished part of our holiday tradition, remaining as powerful, and moving, as the day it was made. It’s making its debut on Ultra HD Blu-ray from Paramount Home Media Distribution featuring beautifully restored video, in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR flavors, Dolby TrueHD sound and, new supplemental material. I am pleased to report that It’s a Wonderful Life has never looked better on home video, receiving the tender care that befits its status. If you’re a fan and are set up to take advantage of its upgrades, this offering is a must have for your video library.

 

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS2000 4K Ultra High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems