West Side Story: Special Edition/Gold Edition (1961)

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Released 18-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Booklet-(200 pages!)
Featurette-West Side Memories
Gallery-Montage
Gallery-Production Design, Storyboard
Gallery-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer-4
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1961
Running Time 147:22 (Case: 152)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (68:56)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jerome Robbins
Robert Wise
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Natalie Wood
Richard Beymer
Russ Tamblyn
Rita Moreno
George Chakiris
Simon Oakland
Ned Glass
William Bramley
Tucker Smith
Tony Mordente
David Winters
Eliot Feld
Bert Michaels
Case Gatefold
RPI $39.95 Music Leonard Bernstein


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Portuguese
Greek
Hungarian
Hebrew
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards at the ceremonies for 1961, and over 40 years later it is still an impressive film. While not the greatest musical film to come out of Hollywood, it boasts a wonderful score by Leonard Bernstein and striking set design by Boris Leven.

††† The story is an updating of Romeo and Juliet to 1950s New York. Tony (Richard Beymer) is a former member of the Jets, a street gang whose leader is Riff (Russ Tamblyn). Their arch enemies are the Puerto Rican Sharks gang, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris).

††† At a dance in the local gym, Tony meets Maria (Natalie Wood), who he quickly learns is Bernardo's sister. That does not stop them from falling in love at first sight. Warned off by Bernardo, Tony contrives to meet Maria outside her apartment on the fire escape. Meanwhile, the Jets and Sharks hold a war council, and to settle their differences they decide on a fist fight between two of their members. The fight takes place, but a double tragedy strikes, with devastating consequences for Tony and Maria's plans.

††† First conceived of by choreographer Jerome Robbins in 1947, it took until 1955 for the idea to take off. Two years later the stage musical had its premiere. The stage version was written by Arthur Laurents with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In order to adapt it for the screen, Ernest Lehman changed the order of several scenes and generally made the musical more cinematic, at least in the opinion of the filmmakers. Jerome Robbins was hired to direct, but after months of rehearsals with little in the way of film in the can, Robbins was fired and Robert Wise was brought in to complete the film. Robbins retained joint director credit with Wise.

††† Released in late 1961, the film was a tremendous success. The Sydney premiere in June 1962 was booked out until October!

††† The success of this film can be attributed to many factors. First and foremost is the music by Leonard Bernstein. The score has memorable tune after memorable tune, such as Maria, Tonight, America, Somewhere, I Feel Pretty and more. Bernstein blends the songs into the general musical score, which creates an almost operatic feel to the music.

††† The set design by Boris Leven is equally impressive. Apart from the opening and closing sequences on an outdoor vacant block, the locations are all sets. They all look realistic, but are used for effects in the film, such as the glass doors in Maria's room.

††† The dance numbers are for the most part well integrated into the film, and some are quite impressive. Robbins' choreography still stands up well after four decades. As shown in the documentary on the second disc, Robbins spent a lot of time rehearsing the numbers, and this preparation pays off on screen. Robbins completed four numbers prior to his removal from the film:† the Prologue, Cool, I Feel Pretty and America. Wise's direction of the remaining scenes is perfunctory but adequate to the task.

††† The performances by the actors are more problematic. Both Chakiris and Rita Moreno (Anita) won well-deserved supporting Oscars for their performances. The other supporting actors are equally fine. Natalie Wood is slightly miscast as Maria. She tries, but did not have the depth as an actress to make much of this central role. Richard Beymer is a disappointment as Tony. He is quite stiff and wooden for the most part, and brings virtually nothing to the role except a broad smile and an earnest demeanour.

††† As noted above, there were changes made to the original musical in order to make it more "cinematic". The major changes were to the order of the numbers. In the stage version, Gee, Officer Krupke and I Feel Pretty occur after the rumble. In the film version, all of the lighter numbers are moved to before the rumble, while Cool is moved from before the rumble to after it. The reason given is that it was psychologically more consistent to do it this way, plus it helped the "dramatic arc" of the film. In my opinion, it would have been better left as it was. In the version we have on screen, the final outcome is obvious from the rumble onwards and the latter part of the film, which has less music, is weaker. This makes the film seem overlong and it seems as though it runs out of steam. It would also have been more consistent to have the Gee, Officer Krupke number closer to the attempted rape of Anita, as then the actions of the Jets would have been more consistent with their demeanour. The America sequence has also been altered. Originally it was a duet between Anita and Rosalia, but in the film it is between Anita and Bernardo.

††† West Side Story also has a racial element. The 1950s saw an influx of Puerto Ricans into the U.S.A. Instead of the Montagues versus the Capulets, the story was recast as Sharks versus Jets, that is, Puerto Ricans versus whites. The film is told from the point of view of the Jets, and the Sharks are relegated to the background, apart from the character of Bernardo. By casting someone of Greek extraction as Bernardo, and an Anglo-Saxon as Maria, the anti-racist thrust of the film is compromised. In fact, the storyline just becomes another of those doomed mixed-race love stories that date back to the early days of American cinema.

††† The film has no opening titles, but the graffiti-style end titles by Saul Bass are worth watching. Don't watch them right to the end, or you will have to sit through those interminable copyright warnings in various languages. These cannot be skipped, and I was not able to even get the stop button to work. The only way to terminate these was to eject the disc, which is extremely annoying and totally unnecessary.

††† This release is touted as a Special Edition. Previously released in a bare-bones edition several years ago, this version has a new video transfer and a new audio transfer, plus some substantial extras, and comes in a cardboard slipcase with a smaller cardboard slipcase inside. The two discs are presented in a gatefold cardboard case.

††† Added for this release is the original intermission music, which can be played optionally with the main feature by menu selection. Also restored is some whistling which was on the original soundtrack after the ensemble version of Tonight but was removed for some reason from the previous transfer. You can hear this at the start of chapter 21.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.20:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The previous Region 4 release had a cropped aspect ratio of 2.35:1, so it is good to see this in the original format. The print used for this new transfer is the same print used for the previous transfer, so apart from being in the correct aspect ratio, there is no significant difference between the two transfers that I could see.

††† The transfer is quite sharp and clear. Shadow detail is satisfactory, with no issues that I could detect. Colour is rendered faithfully, with some primary colours looking very good. Blacks are quite dark and rich, and I did not notice any low level noise.

††† The major film to video artefact is aliasing, which is present throughout. It is most noticeable during the opening flyover above the streets of New York, but is present to some degree during the entire film, as it was in the first transfer. There seems to be less chroma noise in this transfer than in the previous one.

††† Film artefacts are limited to the almost compulsory small white dots and occasional dust and dirt. These are not distracting to any noticeable degree.

††† Subtitles are available in a range of languages. The English subtitles are white with a black border and are quite clear and readable. The subtitles do not include all of the words, but enough has been done to make the film comprehensible.

††† The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring at 68:56. The layer change occurs mid-scene and is slightly disruptive. This aspect of the mastering could have been improved upon, I think.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† There are five audio tracks available, but only one is totally in English. This is the default track and is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

††† The default track is very good with no problems of any kind noted apart from a slight sibilance during dialogue. Given the age of the film, this is not a track of reference quality, but it is very good nonetheless. It is a little disappointing that a DTS soundtrack was not included, as this would have given an even better sound, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite satisfactory in itself.

††† Dialogue, whether spoken or sung, is quite clear and audible. The surround mix has (as you would expect) the dialogue directed towards the centre channel, with the mains used for the bulk of the music and sound effects. The rear channels have the music at a lower level, which gives a slightly forward soundstage, but does not draw attention to the role the rears play in creating that soundstage. The subwoofer is used quite a lot, sometimes a little too much for my liking, with some heavy thumps during some of the louder musical passages.

††† As the songs were mimed by the performers during the shoot, and some were post-synced by professional singers, audio sync is not perfect, but it is more than acceptable.

††† As stated earlier, the music score by Leonard Bernstein is the major selling point of this film, and it is well recorded and conducted by Johnny Green. It is reasonably well sung, but I much prefer the version conducted on CD by Bernstein in the mid-1980s, with Josť Carreras and Kiri te Kanawa in the leading roles, although Carreras has trouble with pronunciation.

††† The alternative audio tracks are in German, Italian, Spanish and French, with the dialogue dubbed but the songs in the original English. A quick sample of these tracks suggests that they were recorded for the original release of the film and do not have the fidelity of the newest English mix. The Spanish version seems to be at a higher audio level than the others. Note that the cover describes these as mono. It seems to me that only the new dialogue is mono and the songs are in surround.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† As this is touted as a Special Edition, there are several extras, unlike the previous release which just had a theatrical trailer. The lack of an audio commentary seems to be a major oversight, and this is the disappointing aspect of the extras package. All of the extras are presented on a second disc. The packaging says that the original intermission music is included on disc two; it is not. It is only included on disc one.

Menu

††† The main menu on each disc is nicely animated with scenes and music from the film. The menus are slightly cumbersome in two respects. Firstly, the Intermission on disc one is optional, and when selecting Play you are directed to a second screen where you select whether the Intermission is played. On the extras disc, when you have finished viewing an extra, the DVD returns to the same menu but positions the cursor at the top of the menu, not on the next item after the one you have just viewed. This is annoying where the menu has 10 options, as it means you have to (a) remember which extra you just viewed, and (b) manually scroll to the next one.

Documentary - West Side Memories (55:51)

††† This documentary was produced for this DVD release, and is very well done. There are interviews with surviving cast members such as Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn (Chakiris is notable by his absence), as well as some of the Jets. Also appearing are director Robert Wise and producer Walter Mirisch. It is surprising how many involved with the work were still around when this was made, including Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Broadway producer Hal Prince. Interesting parts of this documentary include the original voice recordings by Natalie Wood and Russ Tamblyn, which were used for lip syncing during the shoot. Wood's singing voice is surprisingly good, though not nearly as good as that of Marni Nixon, who dubbed her in the final film.

††† There is also some home movie footage of the shoot. Some of this is of sequences of the film that made it into the final cut, and it is fascinating to see this footage side by side with the finished product, shot from a different angle.

††† The documentary is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. As per the main feature, do not watch this to the very end or you will be inundated with unskippable copyright notices.

Gallery - Montage (4:48)

††† A series of storyboards plus the corresponding scenes, with music.

Gallery - Production Design (0:56)

††† Design sketches by Boris Leven.

Gallery - Storyboard (5:58)

††† Storyboard sketches by Leven and his production artist

Gallery - Behind the Scenes

††† A series of photographs in ten categories, showing the production from behind the scenes.

Trailers (13:34)

††† Four trailers from the 1960s, presented in various widescreen aspect ratios, unrestored and not 16x9 enhanced.

Booklet

††† A 200 page booklet is distributed with this edition, housed in a slipcase inside a larger cardboard slipcase. The booklet is almost worth the price of the set. With a three page introduction by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, the booklet features the working script in full. Also included is a chronology of the film, the complete original lobby brochure, some memos, one of which is instructions from Wise to exhibitors on how to show the film, plus contemporary reviews, though these are hard to read. There are also numerous photographs.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† This edition has also been released in Regions 1 and 2. The only difference seems to be the inclusion of several trailers for other MGM/UA releases on the Region 1 release. However, if you have perfect pitch and want to hear the music at the correct speed, you might want to consider acquiring the Region 1 which does not have PAL speed-up.

Summary

††† This is an important film in the history of Hollywood musicals, with a superb music score and some excellent performances, though not by the lead characters. Some of the dance sequences are also spectacular. A worthy addition to anyone's DVD collection.

††† The video quality is pretty good but not perfect.

††† The audio is very good.

††† The extras are extensive but there could have been more of them.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, March 12, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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