Posted in: Disc Reviews by M. W. Phillips on November 22nd, 2011
“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way! From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ days.”
West Side Story is a masterpiece in film making. Its DNA comes from the greatest entertainers in the business. The great Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still) shares directing credit with one of the world’s greatest choreographers, Jerome Robbins. The music was composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Daniel Fapp’s cinematography is epic and evocative. The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, a record at the time, including Best Picture and Best Director. This is film sets the bar so high for musicals there really hasn’t been a good filmed one since.
I gave this film a perfect 5 rating, and I stand by it. This is simply miraculous entertainment. Definitely one of the greatest movies I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Unfortunately 20th Century Fox dropped the ball on the Blu-ray and there are major errors in the transfer, so much so, they plan on re-releasing the Blu-ray after they have made these corrections. For this reason I implore you not to purchase this version and wait for the reissue.
How serious are these errors? The opening overture sequence is ragged and color-distorted with bizarre fades in Saul Bass’s credit sequence. There are color bleeds in the scene transitions as well as massive halo distortions and bizarre glowing that would rival Twilight’s vampires in sunlight. There are problems with the audio as well; although they recently discovered the original 6.0 audio 20th Century Fox decided not to use them due to the expense involved in that transfer and instead repackaged the audio from previous DVD releases. I really don’t understand how they could mess this up so badly, but the folks at 20th Century Fox are aware of the problems and are planning a reissue, so wait for that before purchasing.
The story is a brilliant retelling of Shakespeare´s Romeo and Juliet set in the street-gang culture of 1950s New York City. Tony (Richard Beymer), a former leader and founder of the gang The Jets, who falls in love at first sight with Maria (Natalie Wood) at a dance attended by both The Jets and their Puerto Rican rival gang, The Sharks. Maria’s brother Bernardo (George Chakiris), the leader of The Sharks, is so offended by Tony’s attentions to his sister that he demands a rumble between the two gangs. Riff (Russ Tamblyn), the current leader of The Jets, escalates the rumble into a gang war leading to a horrendously tragic ending.
West Side Story was so complex filming went on for six months; post-production took seven. Choreographer and co-director Jerome Robbins rehearsed with the dancers for three months before shooting began. Once location shooting began, however, he kept revising and revising his original choreography. The dancers all claimed that they had never worked so hard on a dance piece, and most of them at one point or another sustained injuries during shooting. Robbins’ propensity for shooting and reshooting dance scenes ballooned the budget so badly the studios fired him from the production, but Robert Wise brought him back in for the Oscars.
The film version is actually much better than the Broadway stage production. Song and dance routines rearranged to make more narrative sense, lyrics changed in songs to deal more with problems of inequality in America versus racially insensitive slams on Puerto Rico, and director Robert Wise really showcased New York City as a supporting character in the movie something a stage set could never really portray. So good, it must be seen and heard to be believed.
West Side Story was transferred to a 50GB Blu-ray in a 2.20:1 aspect ratio using the AVC/MPEG-4 codec and running an average of 28Mbps. For the most part colors are vibrant, blacks stable, flesh tones natural and details sharp. As I mentioned earlier there are major transfer glitches, and this title deserves better.
They claim the audio is DTS-HD MA 7.1, but I question that. There is virtually no surround and the mix is average to poor between SFX/Music and dialog. This is a musical. The audio should be priority number one. Obviously in this case it wasn’t.
- Pow! The Dances of West Side Story (19:12 HD) can either be accessed as in-movie supplements via seamless branching or played on their own. Interviews with Robert Relyea, Assistant Director of West Side Story, Jamie Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein’s daughter), Yvonne Wilder, who played Consuelo in the film, and famous choreographers and dancers including Debbie Allen to Mikhail Baryshnikov deconstruct and analyze the iconic dances.
- Song Specific Commentary by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim struggles over some of his lyrics and repeats anecdotes from the other featurettes.
- Music Machine (1:25:07 HD) is a video jukebox of all the film’s musical sequences.
- A Place for Us: West Side Story‘s Legacy (29:28 1080i) an overly sentimental and sometimes bizarre retrospective. Still an enjoyable feature and much better than the standard EPK style feature.
- West Side Memories (SD; 55:55) is an excellent featurette offering archival recordings of Jerome Robbins, lyricist Sondheim, director Robert Wise, and many of the cast and crew involved in the motion picture version. Jerome Robbins’ firing from the picture is recounted in detail.
- Storyboard to Film Comparison Montage (SD; 4:50)
- Trailers (HD; 11:50)
There really is no way of expressing what an amazing experience watching this movie is, boasting astounding dance sequences, classic songs you can’t stop humming, and brilliant acting. Even though this movie is 50 years old, it is still quite relevant, dealing with subjects such as racism, police corruption, gang war and attempted rape. This is simply one of the greatest musical films of all time. Just do yourself a favor and wait for 20th Century Fox to reissue a transfer worthy of the HD format.
“When you was my age? When my old man was my age… When my brother was my age… You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us!”