WEST SIDE STORY
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Can you believe it’s been 50 years since the Broadway musical “West Side Story” made the leap from the stage to the big screen? I can’t, and this new Blu-ray release of the movie certainly makes me feel old. Being the first time on Blu-ray, the film is cleaned up considerably, and some gaffs in the original production have been fixed, like a shimmy on the opening helicopter shot that is considerably smoothed out.
The film also looks beautiful in the new transfer, making all other versions substandard, especially if you’re talking about the old VHS transfers. The VHS lovers out there can adore the past, but this new hi-def release makes the film look as good as new. Like Robert Wise’s other recent Blu-ray release, “The Sound of Music” from last year, this new format lends itself to widescreen hi-def televisions more than most other films from its era.
The movie is a modernization (or at least a 50s modernization) of the “Romeo and Juliet” story, telling the tragic tale of two kids from rival gangs in New York as they fall in love. Featuring some of the most famous musical numbers in Hollywood history, this lengthy film keeps the interest throughout the story. It’s obvious as you watch it, even today, why “West Side Story” took home so many Oscars half a century ago.
Sure, the movie is goofy at times, bordering on camp, especially when you compare it to reality and the way films are made today. These are the most clean-cut and polite street gangs you’d ever see. But it was made in 1961, so for mainstream Hollywood, these were the dregs. Let’s forget the white actors made up to look Puerto Rican and the flinging of ridiculous insults like “you loud-mouthed crud head!” “West Side Story,” for all of its silliness for today, is still an epic film.
The Blu-ray comes with three discs, including an in-movie viewing mode of the feature “Pow! The Dances of West Side Story” and a song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim. A second Blu-ray disc includes a long-form documentary “A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy” as well as storyboard-to-film comparisons and the featurette “West Side Memories.”
Finally, there is also an enclosed DVD which features the standard definition of the film along with the “Music Machine” feature.