The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: MGM
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Feature running time: 153 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Video Aspect: 2.20:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn, Simon Oakland
Directed by: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
Music by: Leonard Bernstein/Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Written by: Ernest Lehmen based on the book by Arthur Laurents
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: November 15, 2011
A love affair is fated for tragedy amidst the vicious rivalry of two street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. When Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of the Sharks leader, it's more than these two warring gangs can handle. And as mounting tensions rise, innocent blood is shed in a heartbreaking finale.
This enigmatic film sets the ageless story of Romeo and Juliet against a backdrop of gang warfare in 1950’s New York. My love of West side story goes back to my childhood when it was first aired on prime time television. I can remember being enthralled by the powerful/affecting drama that accompanied the story. Back then TV was the only way to see classic films like West side story (no home video!) and it was broadcast in prime time annually (like the Wizard of Oz, Sound of music, Rudolph the red nosed reindeer etc.). The day after it would air we would run around the school yard pretending to be the Sharks and Jets. As a youngster I didn’t have an appreciation for the full scope of West side story. I liked some of the music but saw it as an interruption. It wasn’t until I was older that I came to see West side story for the total sum of its parts.
I love this film. The forbidden love/tragedy ala Romeo & Juliet, the visceral depiction of cultural clashes/racial tension, the period inner city gang violence/turf war, and the underlying thematic message regarding the results of bigotry/hatred and ultimately the loss of innocence. Leonard Bernstein’s magnificent music, Stephen Sondheim’s moving lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ superlative choreography drive the story and fuel its passion, drama, action/violence, and comradery. The production, meaning the set design, cinematography, and artistic choices are perfectly executed and integrated so as to seamlessly enhance every aspect of the film. The primary cast does a first rate job on both sides of the performance, meaning acting and dancing. As an ensemble the dance routines performed by the cast are simply amazing to watch. Its integration and stylized components were groundbreaking and still stand as sparkling achievements.
A few of my favorite moments; The opening title shot (overhead pan of the NY City skyline), The entire gym/dance sequence (including Tony & Maria’s cha cha), “America”, “Tonight”, Schrank proving the Sharks point (during the war council meeting), “Quintet” (the music montage preceding the rumble), The rumble (music/fight choreography), “Cool” (probably my favorite dance sequence next to America), The dramatic exchange between Maria/Anita (“A boy like that”), Maria’s final say, and the implementation of the end credits. My favorite character is Anita followed closely by Bernardo (this is due in large part to the wonderful performances of George Chakiris and Rita Moreno). My least favorite character is Tony who is annoyingly ebullient and naïve. West side story is truly a classic that epitomizes the movie-musical genre. It is ingrained in our pop culture and in addition to this film has seen various productions, references and emulations.
Five decades after its debut, it hasn’t lost any of its luster and remains a timeless classic with the ability to dazzle audiences young and old. With a record-breaking ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Score, the film took home more awards than any other movie-musical in the history of cinema. West side story: 50th Anniversary Edition boasts newly restored video, 7.1 digital audio, and a collection of bonus features spotlighting the harmonious songs and elaborate dances of the original film. In addition to this 3 disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition there will be a Limited Edition 4-Disc Boxed Set featuring 2 disc Blu-ray, newly-restored DVD, Tribute CD and collectible memorabilia. It has been a number of years since I have seen West Side Story and this revisit invigorated my enthusiasm for it.
The film contains thematic material, language, gang violence and teen smoking.
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.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
West Side Story comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 22 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 4.6 Mbps.
Let’s get the bad out of the way up front. Someone seriously dropped the ball as the film's opening fade in/transition title sequence fails to fade out/dissolve. I am at a loss as to how the title could have been released this way however it appears that a reissue is in the works (no further details on that). Transitions going from the film to the in-movie viewing mode feature aren’t smooth either which results in momentary fluctuations in color/contrast/resolution. Reverting back afterward isn’t an issue. Noisy backgrounds were evident during a few (light to dark) scene transitions as well but I would say this isn't overtly problematic. Those issues aside this presentation delivered fair to good overall image quality that predominantly appeared faithful to the film’s original elements. Its high definition video offers an appreciable level of detail during close ups and certain wide angle camera shots. The exterior shots of New York City appear vivid with a pleasing level of saturation and dimension. Sharpness is good but fluctuates which could be an innate quality attributable to the photography. The variety of period colors and earth toned hues look splendid in high definition. Blues are vibrant deeply saturated and eye catching while reds appear to lean a bit toward orange. Blacks are punchy which increases depth perception in low lit sequences (the city streets at night look great). Those same scenes have an improved sense of depth thanks to an appreciable amount of detail visible in dark backgrounds. Grain is preserved naturally and is noticeable throughout. Occasionally it takes on more prominence but I didn’t find it to be distracting. So what are we left with? A promising but flawed rendering that should by all accounts be corrected. Flawed or not I must admit to enjoying the majority of this high definition presentation as I have never seen West Side Story look this good. Should they reissue it and forward me a copy I will amend this review to incorporate the changes.
I chose the lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track during my evaluation however there is also a lossy Dolby Digital 4.0 track. The lossless track readily handled the elements contained in the recording. The presentation retains a front loaded perspective with well defined dialogue that has average room penetration. I would have preferred a bit more depth/weight to sounds and voices but that is a limitation of the recording. I would rather have it sound natural than artificially enhanced and I think that for the most part this presentation achieves that. The soundfield is one dimensional, with discernible front channel separation and good clarity. The soundstage opens up nicely during the musical set pieces and provides bass response that is proportionate and adequate. Considering the age of this recording dynamics had fair solidity and impact. The rear channels supply ambient extension that broadens the soundfield and enhances envelopment. Compared to today’s movie soundtracks this presentation sounds a bit dated however all things considered I was pleased with it.
- Song specific audio commentary with Stephen Sondheim
- Music Machine – Direct access to the musical set pieces featured in the film
- (HD) Pow! The Dances of West Side Story: In-movie viewing mode that features interviews, production stills and commentary breakdown of the dance sequences
- (HD) A place for us: West Side Story’s legacy:
- Creation and innovation – 15 minute featurette
- A timeless vision – 14 minute featurette
- (HD) West Side memories – 55 minute documentary
- Storyboard to film comparison montage
- 4 Trailers
- Bonus DVD of West Side Story
West side story is a marvelous film that truly epitomizes the movie-musical genre. It has become ingrained in our pop culture and is beloved among its fans the world over. Five decades after its debut, it hasn’t lost any of its luster and remains a timeless classic with the ability to dazzle audiences young and old. It comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox in this 50th Anniversary Edition that features a host of fan friendly bonus supplements that are worth exploring. It’s unfortunate that it was released with some minor issues relative to its video presentation luckily they aren’t pervasive. I have heard that a reissue is in the works but have no definitive word on when or even if it will come to fruition. For the time being I can live with this release which easily bests any other version of West Side Story currently available.
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