West Side Story on DVD
One of Hollywoods greatest musicals is out on DVD again, in a
new special edition version thats a real DVD tour de force.
West Side Story, the Romeo and Juliet as New York street gangs story,
was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning 10 including Best Picture, and they
were well deserved. This new DVD should also get some kind of award,
because not only do you get a pristine copy of the original film, remixed
into Dolby Digital 5.1, and an excellent set of extras on a second disc,
but you also get a thick collectors book the contains the screenplay,
an introduction by script writer Ernest Lehman, a reproduction of the
original lobby brochure, and much more.
Its one heck of a package!
The movie is a masterpiece that passes the test of time. The opening
twenty minutes, which includes the overture (played over an abstract
artwork of the New York skyline) and the prologue sets the scene beautifully,
introducing us to the Jets and the Sharks and clearly showing their hatred
for each other all set to Leonard Bernsteins great music
and with Jerome Robbins fabulous choreography that blends dancing
with fighting. It really must be seen to be appreciated.
The Jets are the heroes, though theyre capable of some pretty
unheroic actions. Riff (Russ Tamblyn) is their leader, who took the reins
after gang co-founder Tony (Richard Beymer the films Romeo)
outgrew the gang and got a job. The Sharks, the other heroes, are led
by Bernardo (George Chakiris), whose younger sister Maria (Natalie Wood)
is our Juliet.
Tony and Maria meet at a dance and its love at first sight, but
theyre from different worlds, so their star crossed romance is
doomed from the start. They dont care, though; love is blind.
Maria tries to get Tony to stop an upcoming rumble between the Jets
and the Sharks, wanting peace between the gangs not only because its
the right thing to do but because it will also make her and Tonys
relationship possible. But things go terribly wrong when Tony intervenes
in the fight, and Riff his best friend - and Bernardo both get
On the run, Tony waits at a friends for his love to join him,
but shes delayed and instead sends her friend and Bernardos
love interest, Anita (Rita Moreno), to give Tony a message. This plan
also goes horribly wrong and, thinking Maria is dead and hes lost
forever, Tony takes to the streets again hoping to join her in death.
This quick rundown of the plot doesnt come close to doing justice
to this masterpiece of musical tragedy, but we dont want to spoil
it for those who may not have seen West Side Story yet.
Naturally, the movie is peppered with liberal helpings of music, song
and dance, including such showstopping numbers as America, Tonight, Officer
Krupke, Somewhere, and Cool. The musical
numbers are terrific, as is the score, and the cast is wonderfully exuberant.
Robbins choreography captures the teen frustration beautifully
without making the audience lose its suspension of disbelief when these
toughs start dancing through the streets (despite this reviewers
wifes comment about them flitting about!).
A wonderful, wonderful film experience that will leave moved anyone
whose heart isnt made of stone.
And what a DVD! We hinted at the special materials above, so we wont
go over them again, but theres plenty of other stuff to talk about.
The picture quality, for example, is wonderful nearly from beginning
to end. The anamorphic widescreen video image (16x9 TV compatible) is
sharp and clean and colorful, though we noticed a few shots that werent
up to the standards of the rest of the movie. Audio, which as mentioned
is newly mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, is about as good as one could
hope for. Theres little use of surround, but theyve made
excellent use of the three front channels, especially the main stereo
speakers that handle the orchestrations. Some of the dubbing is obvious
(Most of the main actors singing was dubbed and when you
watch the documentary youll have to agree that the producers made
the right decision), especially during Tonight, which almost
looks like one of those badly done martial arts films.
Disc one, which houses the feature, also includes the original intermission
music and you can opt to play the film with or without it (play it!).
Then theres disc two, which kicks off with West Side Memories, an
hour-long feature (presented in anamorphic widescreen) that has reassembled
the surviving cast and crew members and lets them opine about their experiences
of some forty-odd years ago. Its terrific!
You also get the original intermission music, in 5.1 surround, several
trailers, storyboard to film comparisons, a film archive, and more.
And dont forget the book!
We take our hats off to MGM for this beautiful version of a true classic.
We hope to see plenty more in the future.
West Side Story, from MGM Home Video
152 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.20:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George
A Robert Wise Production
written by Ernest Lehman, Directed by Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
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