West Side Story – 50th Anniversary Edition, Blu-ray (3 discs) (1961/2011)
Starring: Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno
Directors: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
Studio: MGM [11/15/11]
Video: 2.20:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 4.0 DD, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English, SHD, French, Spanish
Extras: “Pow – The Dances of West Side Story” in-movie viewing mode, Song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim, Music Machines, “A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy,” “A Timeless Vision,” “West Side Memories,” Storyboard-to-Film comparison montage on split screen
Length: 152 minutes
Regarded as the most acclaimed musical of all time—winner of ten Academy Awards—this magnificent collaboration of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise and many others sets Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo & Juliet into a plot of gang warfare in 1950s New York, and the battle of the young punks against the Puerto Rican immigrants. The original Bernstein musical of 1957 didn’t create a huge interest on Broadway, but when the Hollywood version finally came along West Side Story exploded as the most exciting cinema musical ever made.
Besides the wonderful Bernstein music in lossless surround, and the terrific cinematography, the big standout here is the choreography and especially the amazing dancing of both George Chakiris and Rita Moreno. As the lead Puerto Rican couple they are the most interesting characters in the film, rather than the Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood playing Tony and Maria. Although Natalie Wood is fetching in her role. She and others in the cast who worked really had to performer their vocals parts in addition to the demanding dancing were all highly disappointed when the executive in charge of the voices on the soundtrack used dubbed vocalists for most of them (Marni Nixon for Wood).
The restoration is superb and the entire Blu-ray disc of extras is well worth watching. The many dark areas of the image come thru fine. Though facial coloring leans towards the ruddy side, with the Puerto Ricans looking almost too dark. Hearing some of the performers in the original film talk about their experiences was most interesting. The information about the difficult and extended rehearsals for the dance sequences was also of great interest. I wasn’t able to get the “Pow” in-movie programming to work while viewing the movie. West Side Story is altogether a thrilling movie musical that stands up extremely well.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.