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West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition (3-Disc Set version) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 13, 2011 by  



Visually beautiful in HD!  This is the best I have seen of this film yet!  The music comes alive via lossless!   “West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition” on Blu-ray is a magnificent release that is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1961 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition

FILM RELEASE: 1961

DURATION: 153 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

COMPANY: MGM/20th Century Fox

RATED: NOT RATED

Release Date: November 15, 2011

Directed by Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Based on the book by Arthur Laurents

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

Play Conceived by Jerome Robbins

Produced by Robert Wise

Associate Producer: Saul Chaplin

Music by Leonard Bernstein

Cinematography by Thomas Stanford

Production Design by Boris Leven

Set Decoration by Victor A. Gangelin

Costume Design by Irene Sharaff

Starring:

 Natalie Wood as Maria

Richard Beymer as Tony

Russ Tamblyn as Riff

Rita Moreno as Anita

George Chakiris as Bernardo

Simon Oakland as Schrank

Ned Glass as Doc

William Bramley as Krupke

Tucker Smith as Ice

Tony Mordente as Action

David Winters as A-rab

Eliot Feld as Baby John

Bert Michaels as Snowboy

David Bean as Tiger

Robert Banas as Joyboy

Anthony “Scooter” Teague as Big Deale

Harvey Evans as Mouthpiece

Tommy Abbott as Gee-Tar

Susan Oakes as Anybodys

Gina Trikonis as Graziella

Carol D’Andrea as Velma

Jose De Vega as Chino

Jay Norman as Pepe

Gus Trikonis as Indio

Eddie Verso as Juano

Jaime Rogers as Loco

Larry Roquemore as Rocco

Five decades after its historic debut, a timeless classic returns to dazzle audiences young and old. Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, the iconic film WEST SIDE STORY returns in brilliant Blu-ray form November 15, 2011 from Twentieth Century Home Entertainment. 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. This monumental production not only featured the timeless lyrics from master American composer Stephen Sondheim, but a brilliant score from Leonard Bernstein, and beautiful direction from Robert Wise. WEST SIDE STORY: 50th Anniversary Edition boasts hundreds of hours of restoration, new 7.1 digital audio, and a collection of bonus features spotlighting the harmonious songs and elaborate dances of the original film.

This “brilliant” (The New Republic) film sets the ageless story of Romeo and Juliet against a backdrop of gang warfare in 1950’s New York. A love affair is fated for tragedy amidst the vicious rivalry between two street gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. When Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer, The Longest Day) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass), the sister of the Sharks leader, it’s more than these two warring gangs can handle. As mounting tensions rise, a battle to the death ensues and innocent blood is shed in a heartbreaking finale.

Featuring the beloved songs “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” and “I Feel Pretty,” WEST SIDE STORY: 50th Anniversary Edition showcases rousing performances by Best Supporting Actress winner Rita Moreno, Best Supporting Actor winner George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. The Blu-ray will be available in a Limited Edition 4-Disc Boxed Set featuring 2 disc Blu-ray, newly-restored DVD, Tribute CD and collectible memorabilia, as well as a 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray + newly-restored DVD. Prebook is September 7.

“West Side Story”, a musical classic that has entertained and awed generation after generation.

What began as a 1957 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, because the storyline dealt with urban street gangs, needless to say, at first the story was not  as well-accepted by viewers that year, despite winning a 1957 Tony Award for choreography.  But when the film adaptation was made in 1961, the film co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins would try to accomplish something different than any musical on the big screen.

The film would star actress Natalie Woods (“The Searchers”, “Splendor in the Grass”, “Rebel Without a Cause”), Richard Beymer (“The Diary of Anne Frank”, “The Danny Thomas Show”), Russ Tamblyn (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “The Haunting”), Rita Moreno (“Singing’ in the Rain”, “The King and I”, “Zorro”), George Chakiris (“The Young Girls of Rochefort”, “633 Squadron”).

The film would also feature the talent of Leonard Bernstein for music, Stephen Sondheim for lyrics, award winning costume designer Irene Sharaff (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “Hello, Dolly!”, “The King and I”, “Cleopatra”, “Guys and Dolls”), cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp (“The Great Escape”, “The Unsinkable Molly brown”, “One, Two, Three”) and production designer Boris Levin (“Anatomy of a Murder”, “The Sound of Music”).

And needless to say, the film was a major hit all over the world!  The film would be nominated for eleven Academy Awards and would win ten (including “Best Cinematography”, “Best Costume Design”, “Best Director”, “Best Film Editing”, “Best Art Direction”, “Best Music”, “Best Picture” and also an award for both George Chakiris and Rita Moreno for their supporting roles).

Created with a budget of $6 million, the film would gross over $43 million (which was tremendous in 1961) and would be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1971.  The film was also #2 in AFI’s “Greatest Movie Musicals” and #41 in AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Movies”.

And with the 50th Anniversary of “West Side Story” taking place in 2011, MGM/20th Century Fox is now releasing a 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition (three disc including a DVD version and a special limited edition set) featuring major restoration work and also new special features.

The story is broken down to two acts.

For the first act, “West Side Story” takes place in the streets of Manhattan, NYC in the summer of 1957 and the white gang known as the Jets led by Riff Lorton (played by Russ Tamblyn) and a rival Puerto Rican gang known as the Sharkes, led by Bernardo Nunez (George Chakris), have bad blood with each other.  And now the tensions are starting to elevate between both gangs.

Despite being warned by Lt. Schrank (played by Simon Oakland) and Officer Krupke (played by William Bramley), both gangs are looking for ways to take control of the streets.

And the first thing the Jets plan is to go against them at the dance.  But the Riff wants his best friend Tony (played by Richard Beymer), a co-founder of the Jets and who is busy working at a local drug store to be present during their challenge against the Sharks.  Tony wants to straighten out his life and not get involved in gang activities but he eventually decides to go to the dance.

Meanwhile, Bernardo takes his girlfriend Anita (played by Rita Moreno) and his younger sister Maria (played by Natalie Wood) to the dance.  And as the MC tries to promote peace between both gangs at the dance, the Jets and Sharks get into a dance battle via a mambo, but after the dance, Maria sees Tony and Tony sees Maria and for both individuals, its like love at first sight.

The two come together and dance but when Bernardo sees them together, he is upset and separates the two and tells Tony to stay away from his sister Maria.

And seeing this happen, Riff tells Bernardo to meet him for a “war council” to decide how they can have a decisive battle of who gets control of the streets.

As Tony leaves starry-eyed after meeting Maria, Anita is upset that Bernardo sent Maria back home because they are now living in America, not living traditional rules as if they were in Puerto Rico.   But Tony goes to visit Maria outside of her home and both confess their love to each other.

As the Jets and the Sharks meet for their “war council” on the following day, Officer Krupke once again warns them not to cause any trouble.  But at this meeting, both gangs decide that they will now be using weapons in their next fight.  When Tony hears of their discussion, he tells them that both gangs should have a fair fist fight but no weapons.

For the second act of “West Side Story”, as Tony and Maria’s love continues to blossom, they hear that a rumble between the Jets and the Sharks will be happening.  Anita keeps Maria’s secret that she is seeing Tony but as Maria plans for a date with Bernardo after the rumble, Maria makes a request from Tony to prevent the rumble if possible.

As Tony arrives, the Jets and Sharks are engaged in a rumble but this time, Bernardo and Riff are fighting against each other with knives. And tragedy hits both gangs.

And what follows is a storyline that will change the lives of Tony, Maria but also between both gangs.  Life will never be the same, ever again!

VIDEO:

“West Side Story” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:20:1).  Before I begin my review, I do want to add that I am aware of the problems that hardcore fans have mentioned online about the Blu-ray release.

One problem was the opening sequence in which the intro with the title screen shows up and there is a moment where there is a color change, but somehow instead of the color change, there is a fade-out which and then a sudden a fade-in to the title credits.  This upset many people and was reported online by various websites.  According to these various sources, FOX will be doing a second printing with a fixed version.  So, more than likely there will be a return program for those who have purchased the first printing and are bothered by the opening title sequence showing the sudden fade-out.

With that being said, aside from several scenes showing light flickering/shimmering, this is perhaps the only negative I can find with the picture quality of “West Side Story”.

I watched this film a few times in the past few days, watching this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray and the second with the original 2003 special edition DVD release and I can tell you right now that when I saw the colors, the detail and just the overall visual look of the film, I was in awe of how beautiful this film looks.

The “West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition” Blu-ray looks phenomenal!  The colors, the reds and the earth tones look absolutely magnificent in HD and amazingly quite vibrant.  The film utilizes a lot of reds and sometimes, this can be problematic as banding can easily rear its ugly head, but not on “West Side Story”.  I didn’t see any banding or any major blemishes.  Even the white speckles that I saw on the 2003 DVD were removed.

Colors were vibrant and the skin tones and overall detail of the clothing, the scenery, even the sweat and grime on the characters were fully detailed.

I was beyond impressed with the overall look of the film on Blu-ray and for those who feel and debate that classic films on DVD are not much of an improvement Blu-rays, this is once again, another FOX release, similar to how I felt when I saw the 45th Anniversary of “Sound of Music”, that shows how beautiful a classic film with restoration for HD can make an incredible difference.

Just watching the “Mambo” scene in HD, once again, my jaw just dropped when I saw how beautiful that scene and also many other scenes from the film look on Blu-ray!  Fantastic!

This is the best version of the film that I have seen thus far…and I have watched this film many times.  I think that there is no disagreeing by those who watch this film via HD that the picture quality is magnificent!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“West Side Story” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 DTS and subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.  This is where I feel that the hardcore fans have a major problem with this Blu-ray release and it’s the fact that the original six-track mag masters were discovered and restored in 2010.  This audio has not been heard of since 1981 and there was a lot of hype built up on this and many fans couldn’t wait to hear this new soundtrack for the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release.

And when fans heard about this restoration and how these original tracks were found by Chris Lane (Acquisition Manager for MGM Technical Services), Dee Dee Dreyer (Director of Inventory and Research at MGM) and Leah Tuttle, (Coordinator of Inventory and Research for MGM Technical Services) and how they literally spent over a year of their time discovering the lost 6-track mags and then restoring it… to make a long story short, FOX unfortunately chose not to use this 6-mag soundtrack but to use a 4-track mag instead for its lossless soundtrack.

It is no surprise that the hardcore fans, who are very passionate about the film, were disappointed and angry when they found out that FOX decided not to use it.

There were hundreds of hours put into this restoration and while I am very much pleased with the picture quality, you can’t blame these fans.   Knowing how many hours were dedicated in the search and restoration for the newer soundtrack, it’s shocking that FOX chose not to use it.

With that being said, assuming that no one knew about the lost audio being found  and restored, one would have to judge by this film on Blu-ray via its 7.1 lossless soundtrack.  And for me, judging on this DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack alone,  then I will say that this lossless  soundtrack sounds absolutely fantastic!  There is very good use of the surround channels as music and vocals are used perfectly throughout the various channels.  Instruments coming from the rear surrounds, crystal clear dialogue coming from the center and front channels.

To hear the music being played via lossless, it was magnificent!

For those who are wondering, no..there is no option to listen to a soundtrack that utilizes the actual singing voices of Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno before they were redub for the final cut of the film, but there is the documentary (the same that was in the 2003 DVD release) that does showcase some clips of the version sung by Wood.

And for those who have read about the audio-sync problem with another release of “West Side Story” for the song “Tonight”, that problem is non-existent on this Blu-ray release.

With that being said, the lossless soundtrack for “West Side Story” is fantastic!  But the fact that it was well-documented in 2010 of the search and restoration of the original six-track mag masters for “West Side Story” and that highly anticipated track not being used for this film, kind of puts a slight damper towards my review of this awesome Blu-ray release.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition” comes with the following special features on two discs:

DISC 1:

  • Song Specific Commentary by Stephen Sondheim – (19:41) Lyricist Stephen Sondheim revisits a few of the musical scenes from the film and talks about the various scenes, writing for those scenes including the disagreements that he had with Leonard Bernstein for certain scenes.
  • Music Machine – Watch only the musical scenes from “West Side Story”.
  • Pow! The Dances of West Side Story – (19:12) For this segment, you can watch the movie and then hear the film’s talent, dancers who starred in the film or those who were involved in the Broadway version or are choreographers discussing the various musical numbers, the difficulty of the dancing choreography and the challenges they faced in making those scenes and why those dance sequences are memorable for many fans of the film.

DISC 2:

  • A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy – (29:28) How “West Side Story” has become popular and still lives on via parody or featured on various television shows such as “Glee”, “Family Guy”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and more!  How the film meant to various choreographers and how innovative the film was from its creation, its vision including its color and camera-work.
  • West Side Memories – (55:55) The original “West Side Story” documentary made for the 2003 special edition release of the film.  Featuring interviews with cast and crew and those involved with the Broadway play version and revival.
  • Storyboard to Film Comparison Montage – (4:50) Featuring a short montage showcasing the storyboard and how they were used and comparing to the final cut of the film.
  • Trailers – Featuring the original theatrical trailer of “West Side Story” plus the original Issue trailer, the reissue trailer and the animated trailer.

EXTRAS:

For the three-disc set version of “West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition”, you get two Blu-rays (film and special features) plus a DVD version presented in widescreen 2:30:1, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish and French mono, Subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.  This version comes with a slipcover case.

It’s important to note that there is a limited edition version of the Blu-ray release which includes a tribute CD, hardcover book and postcard reproductions of the international posters.

“West Side Story” is a groundbreaking, visually fantastic and memorable musical film that will continue to live on for many generations to come.

Like many of those who grew up and were fascinated with this film from its debut back in 1961 to 2011, this film still puts people in awe because of its music, its talent, its cinematography but also its awesome choreography.

Watching this film and seeing the choreography and cinematography working in sync together is amazing but its the testament to the talent of this film and those responsible from the film’s direction, its cinematography, the tight editing, the vibrant costume design and of course, the music and lyrics that continue to make this film a beloved classic for many who are exposed to it.

“West Side Story” is a film like no other.   One would have to remember that back in the ’60s, musicals were happy stories.  People got their happy ending but for a story such as “West Side Story”, inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”, you knew that this film would be tragic.

Despite the memorable dance scenes and how fun this film is to watch, you know that the story is tragic and that this film is features multiple deaths of characters.  It’s not an action film but a musical that showcases the problems of gang violence.

“West Side Story” was created with magnificent detail within its choreographed moments of visual magic through clever cinematography (for the dancing in the streets, the filmmaker dug a hole in the streets of NY enough to get the camera to shoot from the ground up) to a determined cast who braved through long hours in order to achieve the perfection of Jerome Robbins and also the kindness of Robert Wise.  These two were literally oil and water, complete opposite in approach.  But both respected each other and it was through Jerome’s perfectionist attitude, things had to be tough on the set in order to achieve complete efficacy.

Robbins who worked as the cinematographer and director of the Broadway play, expected perfection and these musical scenes were shot many times, repeated for many hours straight to the point of exhaustion.  In fact, the opening Jets and Shark scenes were shot during 110 degree weather and they were done multiple times. Definitely not easy!

Including the Jets car garage sequence, shot in a very warm area, many times to the point of exhaustion and even one dancer was rushed to the hospital.  That was how Robbins’ approach was, so much to the point that after that shot was created, the dancers/talent burned their knee pads and let Robbins know about how they felt.

Needless to say, it was that perfection and tough direction that led to Robbins being fired from “West Side Story” (the constant reshooting and longer schedule due to Robbins’ trying to achieve perfection was driving costs and investors were not happy), but at the same time, for co-director Robert Wise, to recognize how much Robbins  meant to not only the actors, the dancers and the talent, he was brought back by Robert Wise for his input for advice but also to aid in editing the final cut.

Everything required perfection by Robbins.  He demanded it and because of this demand on his dancers, many of the surviving dancers believe that it was because his determination of achieving perfection, it’s what made this film become a classic but also extended its longevity towards newer viewers but also extending to plays in theater, high school plays and even inspiring choreographers of today who watched the film and were just shocked of how elaborate the choreography was for the film and feel the same way today.

And as the music and cinematography were quite special, one also must be surprised at that time to see what was accomplished with cinema technology because “West Side Story” had a look and feel that was visually bold with its colors and lightning, it was unique for its time.  But also cinematography that captured life on the streets of New York between these two gangs.

Where as the play, characters are restricted to a stage, but in “West Side Story”, we have characters from New York City running and dancing around.  May it be dancing near a wall or crossing the street, the film also showcases overhead shots, very low shots (as mentioned, they dug a hole 6 ft. deep on actual streets to get those dance shots) and the performance by the talents and the dancers are phenomenal.   Everything seemed as if they were in sync.

I used the word “as if” because big choices had to be made throughout the film, from redubbing the singing portions of Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno but  also, behind-the-scenes, the lead talents Wood and Beymer were not-so friendly towards each other.  As one talented mentioned on the documentary, the two did not get along on the set.

But whatever challenges the cast and crew had on the set, no matter how difficult things were to make this film…to have a film that has achieved such a unique status of being a memorable classic is a testament to the perseverance of the crew and talent towards this film.  It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make this film and it paid off.

And as a viewer of this film, from the dance of the mambo and just seeing how the women (via the Sharks) were in unison, almost like a bull fighter waving its red flag, the women waving their dress, these are just dance routines that one can easily remember in their head.  “West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition”, through the hundreds of hours of restoration done on this film for this latest release,  I am just amazed of how well it all turned out and how awesome this Blu-ray really is!

While I know this is not a perfect release (once again, the intro debacle should be fixed by FOX committing to a second pressing and I’m sure a return program will be announced online) and the non-use of the recently found and restored six-track mag will upset the more hardcore fans, based on how beautiful this film looks on Blu-ray and how fantastic the 7.1 lossless soundtrack is, still…this Blu-ray release of “West Side Story” is magnificent and is worth owning!

This is a true classic that cineaste who respects musical films would want to add to their collection.  “West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition” is highly recommended!






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