West Side Story (Blu-ray)

March 15, 2022 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Full disclosure – I’ve never seen the original West Side Story all the way through. Yes, I’m a bad person. Ok maybe not bad, but I have to imagine that the original Robert Wise production has to be a part of every “1000 movies to see before you die” list known to man. And with Hollywood and their countless remakes one has to wonder which titles are kind of “off limits” and which aren’t? Do we think we’ll ever see a remake of Citizen Kane or The Godfather? Let’s hope not. So when it was announced that West Side Story was getting remade, people weren’t sure what to think. Then again the man doing the remake is Steven Spielberg, so it might be argued that he’s got the clout and experience to tackle such a project. Regardless of what folks thought, this did happen and I went into this one with not too much of an open mind (I’m sorry to say). Then again Spielberg has entertained me for the past few decades, so maybe cut the guy some slack? Did he get it right?

The story of the film is well-known by now. Tony (Ansel Elgort) is a member of the Jets, a New York street gang. He’s gotten out of prison for nearly killing someone in a fight and now wants to start fresh. He meets Maria, a Puerto Rican girl, at a dance and their attraction is immediate. But this doesn’t sit too well with Maria’s brother, Bernardo (David Alvarez). Bernardo also happens to be the leader of the Sharks, the Jets rival gang. He insists that Tony and Maria not see one another. But love knows no bounds and, well, we know what happens.

When tackling a movie like this, there are a few ways to go about it. On one hand the source material is there and they could just do an updated version. But Spielberg managed to stay loyal to the original, but also gave this one its own flare. Take, for instance, “I Feel Pretty” which takes place in a department store, but then later morps into a hall of mirrors. It’s visually stimulating, but also manages to keep the tone and story consistent. To put it bluntly, there’s a reason that Steven Spielberg has become one of the most successful directors of all-time and this new West Side Story is further proof.  While it’ll never supplant the original, this is one remake that seems to appeal to critics and audiences alike.

Video: How’s it look?

When you’re tackling a remake of one of the most popular films ever made, it’d better be done right. Spielberg chose to shoot this on 35mm film instead of going for a more “modern” take on this with digital. This gives the movie a particularly “retro” vibe with its vintage look and tone. It’s quite evident that he’s got a fondness for the era that was indicative of the musicals of the 50’s and 60’s showcased so well. The Blu-ray’s wide 2.39:1 AVC HD encode gives plenty of room for the lavish dance numbers and really stretches the bounds of what we see. It’s quite the visual experience.

Audio: How’s it sound?

When the genre is “musical” I’d say it’s a safe bet with Steven Spielberg behind the camera that we’ll get a pretty immersive mix. And we do. Granted the included DTS HD Master Audio mix is a step down from the 4K’s Dolby Atmos mix, but it’s not that far of a step down. It’s encompassing and, at some points, dizzying with some of the sound effects and music seemingly emitting out of every channel in your arsenal. The songs sound amazing, the vocals pure, rich and crisp and the surrounds provide a warm, satisfying ambiance. Truthfully, there’s nothing to dislike.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • The Stories of West Side Story – A somewhat exhaustive, but very robust look at the making of the film. Within this are no less than a baker’s dozen of featurettes showcasing pretty much every aspect of the production. If you’re looking for a feature (or set of them) that really digs into the heart and soul of a film – look no further.
  • The Songs – A “jukebox” feature that allows the user to select the song and then be taken to that part of the film.

The Bottom Line

The director who brought us Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan now tackles a new genre – the musical. And, you know what, he did a good job with it. I went in not wanting to like the movie, but I have to admit that it really grew on me. The Blu-ray looks and sounds gorgeous as we might expect. It’s a bit on the long side, but I read somewhere that romance is timeless, so we’ve got that…

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