DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "West Side Story" Special edition (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Mar 3, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    West Side Story
    Special Edition

    Studio: MGM/UA
    Year: 1961
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 152 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.20:1)
    Subtitles: English, French and Spanish


    I knew this would be a very difficult review to
    do from the onset. What could I possibly write that
    would give proper justice to West Side Story,
    the undisputed greatest musical film ever made? Let
    me try....


    West Side Story transfers Shakespeare's
    Romeo and Juliet to present-day New York.
    The love story of Romeo and Juliet becomes that
    of Maria and Tony. The feud between the houses of
    the Capulets and the Montagues is re-created in
    one involving two teen-age gangs, the Jets and
    the Sharks. The famous balcony scene of the
    Shakespeare drama transpires on a fire-escape of
    an ugly New York tenement. The movie is regarded
    as one of the best musicals ever filmed thanks
    to Jerome Robins' choreography, Leonard Bernstein's
    music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. The film
    went on to win ten Oscars and made Academy Award
    history when Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins became
    the first, and to date, only co-directors to win
    the Oscar for Best Director.


    The stage is set in New York’s Upper West Side in
    the 1950s, where the area’s slums are plagued by
    racial tensions. The main players are Tony (Richard
    Beymer), member of the white gang the Jets, and
    Maria (Natalie Wood), sister of Bernardo (George
    Chakiris), head of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks.
    The Jets feel they've got a right to defend their
    turf against newcomers while the Sharks feel themselves
    facing an uphill climb against discrimination, wanting
    the same opportunities as whites.


    There is no doubt that West Side Story is a
    cinematic masterpiece. The film's real selling points
    are its highly-charged song-and-dance numbers, the
    passionate ballads, the moody sets, and the colorful
    support from its supporting cast that include Rita
    Moreno and Russ Tamblyn. You can't help but be in
    awe of the sheer accomplishment of Hollywood talent
    that has produced a film so utterly stirring.


    Before I talk about the transfer, let me talk a
    little about the DVDs new packaging. West Side
    arrives in what may be MGM's most elaborate
    package to date -- an oversized sturdy cardboard
    case whose innards slide out to what can best be
    described as a bookend sleeve. Inside this sleeve
    rests the actual DVD digipack and collector's booklet.


    With all the different types of DVD packaging these
    days, I easily find myself lost with proper names,
    but I believe "digipack" best describes this 4-pane
    cardboard packaging that houses the two DVDs in
    plastic hub casing. This is not exactly my favorite
    kind of packaging, but it does allow for some
    beautiful surrounding glossy photographs. A chapter
    list is included inside one of the flaps.


    This boxed set also contains a collectable scrapbook,
    featuring an introduction by screenwriter Ernest
    Lehman, a complete working script with revision pages
    and song lyrics, rare never-before-seen photos,
    letters from director Robert Wise, a reproduction of
    the original lobby brochure, a historical timeline
    and film reviews from 1961.

    How is the transfer?

    This is basically the same widescreen transfer
    from the original 65mm film elements that we got
    on the initial DVD release a few years back. Most
    everyone will be satisfied with this nearly perfect
    transfer, but being the nit picker that I am, I think
    that an all-out restoration from MGM would have
    yielded even better results, particularly in ridding
    the film of the abnormal amount of speckles and
    blemish that are scattered throughout. The original
    negative shows signs of aging as well. The print
    features some of the richest colors to be found in
    any '60s widescreen production (the photographic
    process was Super Panavision 70), and all of it is
    boldly and vividly reproduced here. Flesh tones
    are generally excellent and black levels are deep
    enough to give this film nice texture. Best of all,
    the 2.20:1 effectively preserves the compositions of
    cinematographer Daniel Fapp, who gives us nice wide
    open shots of streets, alleys and rooftops.


    The box states that this DVD features new 5.1 audio,
    but to be honest, I couldn't really determine if it
    is any improvement over the original release. This
    mix is no great shakes. I didn't notice any distinct
    direction of sound (dialogue crosses all three
    channels), and the rears don't do a great job of
    supporting the film's musical numbers, just merely
    adding ambient noise here and there. Audio is quite
    strong with dialogue that is distinctly clear. I
    would say that the musical numbers come across with
    good dynamics, though I was bothered by the sort of
    phony sounding dubbing that was added for these tracks.

    Let me make a special note (as raised by a member
    here) that seconds of a restored Jets "whistle"
    can now be heard before a camera pullback from a
    chain-line fence following the Tonight ensemble

    Special Features


    Right off the bat, let me talk about the fact that
    this new DVD release contains the first-time-inclusion
    the film's original orchestral intermission which has
    been remixed and remastered in 5.1. There is no way
    you can possibly miss this intermission sequence
    because the sound rose so far above the film's
    normal audio level that it made me jump out of my
    chair. Viewers can opt to play the film with or
    without the inclusion of this intermission.


    The entire feature resides on Disc One.
    Let's take a look at the supplements can be found
    on Disc Two...


    West Side memories is an all-new 55-minute
    documentary filled with new cast and crew interviews
    that offers insight into the making of the film. It
    begins with the voice of co-director/choreographer
    Jerome Robbins who talks about how he came up with
    translating Romeo and Juliet to screen in
    a modern-day setting complete with Leonard Bernstein's
    music. Steven Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Greg
    Lawrence talk about this bold new musical that
    was a departure from the normal Fred Astaire/Gene
    Kelly musicals, by introducing fresh young faces
    who combined contemporary dance style with the
    infusion of ballet and jazz. Walter Mirisch and
    Robert Wise talk about their individual efforts
    and collaborations, while we are shown many great
    stills of rehearsals as well as new interviews from
    Richard Beymer (Tony), Rita Moreno (Anita) and Russ
    Tammblyn (Riff). There are some really cool moments
    of raw footage of the cast dancing against the New
    York set. Robert Wise was such a stickler at
    shooting as many angles as he could, that the cast
    often spent a full day dancing on hard street cement.
    The New York shoot was only supposed to be two weeks,
    but because of the rain, it went over schedule by
    two months. The cast didn't care -- they loved being
    in the city and even did their own rain dances
    (which we see footage of here) to make it rain more.
    The documentary then steers into the genius of
    Leonard Bernstein's score with some really interesting
    words from Jerome Robbins (via a 1960 radio interview).
    Rita Moreno talks about how difficult it became to
    dance to the jazz-infused music that had such crazy
    sets of dance timing. Next up is the film's infamous
    "rumble" scene which had to be extremely well
    choreographed in order that no-one gets hurt. In a
    very rare treat, never-before-seen rehearsal audio
    track footage shows how counting was used to properly
    coordinate the scene. Next, we hear the tale of a
    film that went terribly over budget and a studio that
    decided it was time to let the co-director step down.
    After more than 60% of the film was shot, Jerome
    Robbins was removed from the picture and Robert Wise
    finished it with the help of the dance assistants
    who already had the rest of the film's numbers well
    choreographed. The filmmakers and cast give great
    credit to Robbins, citing him as the emotional
    centerpiece of the film. Next, we learn about Natalie
    Wood and her presence on the set. What is most
    surprising to learn here is that she and Richard
    Beymer (Tony) didn't get along at all. Beymer touches
    a bit upon the actress's coldness towards him. This
    featurette also features footage of Natalie Wood's
    original recording of I Feel Pretty which
    was later replaced with Marni Nixon's voice in
    the final version of the film. Fortunately, Natalie
    Wood didn't have any major problems with this
    last-minute dubbing. In fact, seems like many
    of the original cast members had their performances
    redubbed, and you'll see various clips of the original
    recorded performances before they were retouched.
    The featurette then turns to the "marriage" of
    Sondheim and Bernstein and how both the lyricist
    and composer fed off each other's talents. The
    featurette also briefly dwells on production and
    set design as well as the film's 1961 Hollywood
    premiere and the phenomenon that followed it. This
    featurette alone is worth the purchase of this DVD.
    Just outstanding!

    A short 5-minute Storyboard-to-film comparison
    presents a montage of storyboards that dissolve into
    the final film footage.


    An entire page devoted to Photo Galleries
    gives us approximately 230 stills featuring never-
    before-seen behind-the-scenes photos, production
    design snapshots and storyboard sketches.

    Finally, in addition to the film's original
    theatrical trailer
    there are DVD trailers for
    Some Like It Hot, Fiddler On The Roof and
    The Last Waltz. You also have the ability
    to watch the original film intermission in
    case you opted not to include it in the playback
    of the feature.

    Final Thoughts


    Since I would expect most anyone that has any
    appreciation for one the greatest films ever made
    now owns a copy of this DVD, the question is whether
    there is worth in repurchasing this new 2-disc
    Special Edition that sports the same transfer.

    The answer is YES, simply because of the inclusion
    of a collector's booklet and terrific supplements
    including an outstanding new featurette that shows
    you West Side Story as you have never seen
    it before.

    This is a set to own!

    Release Date: April 1, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

    May 16, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Georgia (the state)
    Real Name:
    Patrick McCart
    I have been fortunate enough to see this film only in its original widescreen format...but it's time for my VHS to be replaced, I guess!

    It's not one of my favorite movies, but one I really enjoy. I'll be eager to see it on DVD for the first time.

    Great review, as always!
  3. Brian Fineberg

    Brian Fineberg Second Unit

    Sep 1, 2000
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    thanks Ron...it will be in my collection!!!
  4. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Jul 29, 1999
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    Los Angeles
    Real Name:
  5. Rain

    Rain Producer

    Mar 21, 2001
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    The restored sound effect and intermission score are enough reason to convince me to upgrade.

    I'm still curious though...if this is a limited-time release, does anyone know how long it will be available?
  6. Jo_C

    Jo_C Second Unit

    Oct 20, 2001
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    Question for Ron...many reissues of UA films on MGM Home Entertainment no longer carry the UA logo (they open instead with the current MGM logo)--makes some kind of sense since MGM now owns UA and also now holds the copyright to UA films.

    Does the new "West Side Story" DVD open with the MGM or UA logo (the new UA logo is a modernized version of the "swoosh" logo used in the late 1980s)?
  7. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

    Apr 23, 2002
    Likes Received:
    OK, the score just started running through my head
    like an endless loop.
    I need to pick this up[​IMG]
  8. Jenna

    Jenna Second Unit

    Feb 12, 2002
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    I've always loved this movie, but hesitated picking up the original release because I felt that someday it would warrant a Special Edition. Patience is sometimes rewarded.

    Another excellent and thorough review, Ron. Thanks!

    Wouldn't it be a perfect world, if the other upcoming Musical DVDs were released in similar fashion?
    "Sweet Charity", "A Chorus Line", "Thoroughly Modern Millie"??....AND still waiting for "All That Jazz"
  9. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

    Oct 31, 1997
    Likes Received:
    Well I always found one reason or another not to pick up the old DVD (mostly I didn't see it on the shelves so it never occurred to me to pick it up!) and now it looks like I'm out of excuses. Time to pony up!
  10. Craig S

    Craig S Producer

    Mar 4, 2000
    Likes Received:
    League City, Texas
    Real Name:
    Craig Seanor
  11. Seth T

    Seth T Stunt Coordinator

    Dec 8, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Yeah Ron....geee thanks. [​IMG]

    It'll be fun to get this. My wife's never seen it.

    Just counted my stack of "To Watches"...27. Must...have...more.... [​IMG]
  12. Stu Rosen

    Stu Rosen Second Unit

    Jan 27, 1999
    Likes Received:
    I love this movie, and I can't wait to buy it, but Ron -- "undisputed greatest musical film ever made"???? I think fans of "Singin' in the Rain" might dispute that.
  13. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

    May 13, 2001
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    Well, I can honestly say that I only like two Robert Wise films. And this is one of them.
  14. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein
  15. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

    Jun 19, 2002
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    Of course, Singin' in the Rain is an original film musical, so you could make the distinction that West Side Story is the greatest film musical adapted from a Broadway show.

    Although then you'd have to rate it above Fiddler on the Roof, 1776, The Music Man, and some others.

    Best to just love them all.
  16. MattMB

    MattMB Agent

    Nov 21, 2002
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  17. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Thanks for the review Ron. Mostly good news about the transfer.

    For anyone who is unaware (and I expect that won’t be many), the definitive recording (for the music only) is on a 2-CD set with José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa, Leonard Bernstein conducting. According to the liner notes, this is the way Bernstein intended the music to be sung, but of course that was not achievable in the musical format.
  18. Greg_M

    Greg_M Screenwriter

    Mar 23, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Quote: I love this movie, and I can't wait to buy it, but Ron -- "undisputed greatest musical film ever made"???? I think fans of "Singin' in the Rain" might dispute that.

    I think Fans of "West Side Story" might dispte that!

    As would Oscar
    West Side Story 11 nominations 10 Wins (including Best picture!)

    Singing in the Rain 2 nominations (supporting actress/scoring of a film) 0 wins.

    Never really loved "Singing in the Rain" now I avoid it at all costs (there are many other musical films which are better (um... where the songs were actually written for the film and not just a collection of MGM standards)

    The doc is the reason I'm buying the DVD, the original DVD release was pretty damn good. Wish MGM had included an option to hear Natalie Wood's vocals in the film (Like Fox did with the "My Fair Lady" laserdisc back in 1994)
  19. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    May 19, 2001
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  20. Greg_M

    Greg_M Screenwriter

    Mar 23, 2000
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    Yeah, but "Singing in the Rain" wasn't a big box office hit when it was first released (West Side ran for two years and was a high grossing film in 61-62.)

    I know many who did mind the use of the chosen songs in "Moulin Rogue".

    "Singing in the Rain" is really a comedy with musical numbers tucked it (none of the songs progress the story as in WSS) they are all used basically for entertainment value (Which isn't a bad thing, and Gene Kelly isn't really a singer) ans SITR isn't a bad film. It's a great comedy, and it has some of the best dancing ever put on film, I just think (and know many others who feel) it is over rated. WSS is a true original work of art.

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