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West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24
  • Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, English Dolby Digital 4.0, French, German, and Spanish DTS 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
  • Region: A (B? C?)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Run Time: 153 Mins.
  • Discs: 3 (2 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
  • Studio: MGM
  • Blu-ray Release Date: November 15, 2011
  • List Price: $29.99

[amazon-product]B005BDZN62[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
West Side Story - Widescreen Dubbed Anniversary

Purchase West Side Story on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:5/5]

1961’s West Side Story is one of the first of the last great musicals from Hollywood’s golden age of musicals. With music from Leonard Bernstein, lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, and choreography from Jerome Robbins, the original stage musical was brought to the screen in spectacular fashion, a widescreen, 65mm (70mm projection) production in fantastic color. The story transplanted Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet to the streets of New York City where the newly arrived immigrants, the Puerto Ricans clash with the old, white immigrant groups and the youths formed into rival gangs; the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and Jets (whites) lined up against each other ready to rumble in the streets. Against this backdrop, the tragic story of forbidden love between the Puerto Rican Maria (Natalie Wood) and the white boy trying to cut loose from the gangs, Tony (Richard Beymer) plays out.

The film, like the stage play, has given us many classic and memorable songs like “Tonight,” “Maria,” “Something’s Coming” and the often remade “America.” West Side Story is one of the few musicals that translates just as well on the screen as it does on stage and is a well-deserved, award-winning classic in the cinematic canon.

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

The problems with this transfer of West Side Story are heating up the internet. Yes, there are problems with fade-ins and outs that should be dissolves and some issues with syncing later on. In the grand scheme of things, especially when you’re talking about a fade on the opening credits, these are quite small, in my opinion, for a film of this length, particularly coming from the audio world where we have had to deal with entire albums such as Mile Davis’ Kind of Blue or The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet which were originally mastered at incorrect speeds, pressed and issued that way and never, ever corrected for decades after their release, resulting in music that was never actually in any key. But I digress, 20th Century Fox definitely botched this, and the more troubling issue is that the word is they will be reissuing this West Side Story without changing the packaging, meaning there will be no way to differentiate between the corrected version and the original, “bad” version. Why all this stealth and the release of something they know to be defective anyway? Well, a little birdie told me that it all ties in to the current season of Glee and their rendition of West Side Story. Fox didn’t want to pull the release due to the cross promotion. I throw my hands up in the air at the news of this crass commercialism.

But there are more reasons to criticize this new transfer of West Side Story besides a few seconds of botched dissolves and some sync issues that have been around for a long time. For a film produced on 65mm it doesn’t look quite as detailed and clean as it should. Of course, there are lots of moments where it does, and your jaw just drops in awe, but there are plenty of times where grain and detail soften and it looks coarse and not quite up to snuff. On the plus side, colors look amazing and blacks are really deep, but there is some crush here and there and overall contrast isn’t quite what it should be. I also spotted a little bit of stairstepping in the image and some motion artifacts which just shouldn’t exist. So, in all, this is just a middling AVC/MPEG-4 1080p transfer of a catalogue release that doesn’t reach the heights of some of the best we’ve seen.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

There are two choices for the original English soundtrack on this new Blu-ray from MGM. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 will most closely match the original 6-track mix from the 70mm release of the film. There is also a Dolby Digital 4.0 mix that would be more like what one would have heard with the 35mm theatrical release. I have to ask, however, why no lossless version of the 4.0 mix, MGM? In my opinion, the 4.0 version has a wider stereo soundfield with clear, although more pushed, dialogue and vocals. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sounds a bit narrower and muffled to my ears, but definitely has better dynamics and more natural sounding highs.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

MGM has loaded up this three-disc set with great features. There are plenty of interviews with the stars and creators as well as making of featurettes and the wonderful “Pow!” picture-in-picture feature that delves into the production of the dance scenes with plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

The supplements provided with this release

Disc 1 (Main Feature):

  • Song Specific Commentary by Stephen Sondheim
  • Music Machine
  • Pow! The Dances of West Side Story – Use Pow! Mode to explore the creation of West Side Story‘s dance sequences. These video pieces may be viewed either while you watch the movie or separately.

Disc 2 (Special Features Blu-ray):

  • A Place For Us: West Side Story‘s Legacy (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:29:28) – Mikhail Baryshnikov, choreographer Adam Shankman, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jaime Berstein and others talk about the influence of West Side Story.:
    • Creation and Innovation
    • A Timeless Vision
  • West Side Story Memories (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:55:55) – The original creators, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim and others recount their memories of doing the West Side Story stage production.
  • Storyboard to Film Comparison Montage (2.35:1; 00:04:50)
  • Trailers:
    • Original Theatrical Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24)
    • Original Issue Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24)
    • Reissue Trailer (1.78:1; 1080p/24)
    • Animated Trailer (2.35:1; 480i/60)
  • DVD

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

A flawed but still enjoyable release of West Side Story that could have been so much better. It is difficult to recommend this, however, knowing that there may well be a corrected reissue available. Whether that will be made available to current owners of this disc as a trade-in option will be up to Fox.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B005BDZN62[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
West Side Story - Widescreen Dubbed Anniversary

Purchase West Side Story on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]


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