It's a Wonderful Life
was filmed and originally shown with an aspect ratio of 1:37. This is not a widescreen movie.
If you watch it on a 16:9 widescreen HDTV, your screen has an aspect ration of approximately 1:78.
The only way that you can watch it on what is now a standard HDTV (16:9) without image loss is with pillar boxes (called letterboxing) on the sides. (Note: Letterboxing can also be black bars at the top and bottom of the film image for a widescreen movie.)
Letterboxing will give you the full image of the movie on your screen. If the image fills the entire
screen of an HDTV set, you will be cropping the image at the top and bottom. There is no way around this. Some folks prefer to lose some of the image in order to have the picture fill the entire screen. That is a personal preference. I prefer the whole enchilada, so I gladly live with the letterboxing and personally prefer all of my movies to be viewed that way.
Just for comparison purposes, White Christmas
was filmed at 1:85 and the Blu-ray release is 1:78. The Blu-ray version fits that HDTV screen perfectly. For lack of a better example (off of the top of my head,) Star Wars
was filmed at 2:39:1 and released on DVD and Blu-ray at 2:35:1. Letterboxing produces black bars at the top and bottom of the screen on this movie.
Most HDTVs have the ability to "zoom" in on an image to make it fill your entire screen if the aspect ration is less than 1:78. Just make sure that you are okay with losing some of the picture when you do that.
In order to get an easy to understand explanation for how It's a Wonderful Life
will look on your TV, you can click on this link to the TCM website here
. The 4:3 TV screen size noted there is the standard television aspect ratio of our youth.
Susan's linked article explains all of this in great detail.
There are always compromises if you want to watch any movie where the aspect ratio doesn't fit the aspect ratio of your television set.
The Blu-ray version of It's a Wonderful Life
has an aspect ration of 1:34. It is certainly the most detailed and pristine version of the film that has been released to date. I have owned this movie on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and now Blu-ray. You will love this movie no matter which format you watch it on.