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Old 11-04-2019, 02:27 AM   #459
Geoff D Geoff D is offline
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It's a Wonderful Life (1946) review. It's hard to put something like this into words when it looks as magical as it does, these collections of consonants and vowels just won't do it justice. But it's worth stating first that this is a highly variable source, anyone who's watched the restoration featurette would be able to parrot that and yet anyone who knows about older film practices will know that there's also a whole heap of opticals in this film for the fades, wipes, freeze frames and dissolves, which even a negative in the most pristine condition would still succumb to if it's been conformed with the optical sections and not cut to A-B rolls. Paramount have clearly eased up on the grain in these numerous moments which is why several sections have a slightly 'harder' and more processed look to them but it rarely becomes anything like a distraction, it just becomes part of the rhythm of the film (although the usage of opticals eases up in the second half of the picture).

The actual replacement sections taken from the fine grain masters are more readily apparent, they really do look a bit rougher around the edges, literally, and when the opticals occur within these sections they drop even further in quality because they're yet another generation removed from the original (the fine grains having been minted from the conformed OG negative, essentially a B&W version of an interpositive). But these interludes are brief, only for a few minutes at a time, and I thought myself exceedingly clever that I spotted the switcheroo when George meets his brother and his new wife and the train station, where they hid the transition from neg to fine grain in a wipe as someone walks in front of them. I had to rewind it a couple of times to make sure, thinking "those sly bar stewards", and then I watched the restoration featurette afterwards where they actually call it out, so now everyone knows and I don't look so clever no more! It's also got other filmmaking conventions of the time to factor in, like the diffusion used to shoot many of Donna Reed's close-ups and the more romantic two-shots with her and Jimmy Stewart.

If it sounds like I'm preparing people for the worst then that mightn't be far from the truth, but I'm just trying to get across the facts of filmmaking life which affect this movie just as they have done for thousands upon thousands of other movies. Those aspects are what they are, but when we get the cherry OG neg the image springs into life and takes on a remarkably crisp demeanour without ever looking overcooked and the grain is pin-sharp with it. It makes those aforementioned diffused shots of Donna Reed look amazing because you get this gorgeous silky sheen with this incredibly fine grain over the top of it and the effect is almost three-dimensional at times, not that the rest of the first-gen material is any slouch either! The sense of texture and detail is so strong you feel like you could reach out and touch them.

The HDR is restrained but in the best possible way, they've used it very subtly and tastefully to resolve more highlights in the usual places (brighter speculars and reflections, windows facing outside, lights, the snow in Bedford Falls, that sort of thing) and, as they say in the restoration featurette, the HDR is what allows them to not have to go bonkers with the contrast in order to make the bright parts brighter and the dark parts darker. Ah yes, the dark parts. It's worth acknowledging that the shadows do look somewhat compressed, I don't mean in the "encoding" sense but in that they're plenty dark but there's just not a lot of shadow information contained therein.

However, the overall image itself is not "too dark" in any conventional sense as there's a healthy APL at play that's higher than the B&W remastered Blu (when viewed at 140 nits peak), it's just that the shadows have been rolled off a bit, rightly or wrongly, and I won't make any historical claims as to what they should look like. All I can do is report what this 4K disc looks like and when it's on-song it's just beautiful to witness, as sacri-licious as it is. Compression is spot-on, even during the heavy snowfall in the final reels, and it's been mastered with BT.2020 primaries rather than P3, as indicated by the metadata reader on the Panasonic UB820 player.
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