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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Booklet
  • Digitally remastered - restored from the original 65mm elements and a new dolby digital 5.1 soundtrack

West Side Story

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 145 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It's not often that I'd willingly sit down to review a musical, but I've had an interest in seeing West Side Story since hearing Alice Cooper's album, School's Out, which uses huge slabs of the more anthemic tracks from the play. Okay, now that I've revealed my teenage musical tastes, on with the review...

Basically an updated version of Romeo & Juliet, the stage production (and hence the film) updates the setting of the Shakespeare story, moving the characters to the 50s in the west side of Manhattan. The families Montague and Capulet are transformed into two rival gangs, the whitebread Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. An ex-member of the Jets, Tony (Richard Beymer) falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), sister of the Shark's leader. Of course, once I'd picked the parallel between the stories, I'd also guessed the ending, but I won't give it away for the three readers who've been locked in cages all their lives (and yes, help is on the way).

I wasn't quite prepared to see street toughs dancing in perfect synchrony. I actually started laughing at the extreme stylisation, but as it progressed, I fell into the rhythm of the film, and actually got right into it. For those who can't suspend their disbelief, I'd still recommend this as an excellent film to take drugs to (note: DVD.net is against drugs of any kind. Drugs are bad, mmm-kay?).

The film betrays its origins at times, with confined 'locations' and a lack of travelling dolly shots. Other artistic choices are obviously nods to the stage production, with spotlighted characters, coloured lighting and other theatrical attributes. Like the theatrical production, the film was extremely successful and won a swag of Academy Awards.

  Video
Contract

Considering the age of the negative, this restoration is virtually faultless. The film was shot in 65mm, which generally guarantees a good picture, as there's a far bigger frame, which equates to more sharpness and less grain. It's not stated on the packaging whether the DVD was transferred from the original restored negative or a 35mm print, but the picture is delightful in any case.

Shadow detail is impeccable, and matched with the good colour reproduction allows you to really study the set design and cinematography. I appreciated that the transfer preserved the art design, with the film starting bright and colourful, then the colours become more foreboding, and scenes become darker as the film's tone becomes more serious.

Picture detail is very good. In fact, it's almost too good - viewers with 4:3 TV sets will notice a lot of aliasing shimmer on the opening fly-by of Manhattan. This is less of a problem with a widescreen set, but still exists in the transfer. Personally, I will trade a bit of shimmer for more detail most of the time. Hey, it's interlaced video. Deal with it.

Film noise and grain are not problematic, and given the age of the elements, should be expected in any case. I'll just say I never found the video problematic and leave it at that. The layer change is placed perfectly at a fade-out, and is unnoticeable.

  Audio
Contract

The sound isn't as good as the picture, but is fairly typical of a film from the 60s. As 70mm prints were made, I assume the 5.1 mix used for the disc was taken from the original 6-track magnetic master, rather than remixed from the original music, effect and dialogue stems.

First off, the soundtrack is a little bright, with some distortion on dialogue. I found it necessary to switch on my amp's cinema equalisation. Also, as much of the dialogue was looped in after filming (due to the wide shots, boom mikes couldn't get close enough to the actors), voice levels are often slightly mismatched. There is also a little background hiss, though switching on equalisation cured this for me.

Now for the good bits - the music still sounds fabulous, quite well recorded and filling the front soundstage nicely. Even if you've never seen the play or film, you'll still recognise many songs, as they've become part of our culture. Some of the lyrics (such as in the witty track America) had me laughing out loud.

The surrounds are under-utilised throughout the film; the very conservative mix misses opportunities to draw the audience into the environment, but I would expect that theatres at the time (even ones equipped for 70mm surround productions) would have had fairly poor rear speakers anyhow. The United Artists logo at the start of the film has the deepest bass of the entire soundtrack - this disc won't stress your foundations.

  Extras
Contract

As virtually every reviewer has mentioned, the running length of the film is completely wrong on the packaging, but the soundtracks are also incorrect. The French track is mono, not 5.1 as listed, and the Italian track is in stereo, rather than mono.

There are very few extras to mention, just a theatrical trailer (in 2.35:1 widescreen, with strident mono sound), and the usual MGM 8-page booklet.

  Overall  
Contract

I'd have to say I really enjoyed West Side Story. Coming from somebody who fidgeted through A Chorus Line and is still afraid to watch The Sound of Music, that must mean this film has something.

With an excellent transfer to boot, you should definitely give this disc a try. Recommended.


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      And I quote...
    ""
    - Paul Dossett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          RealMagic Hollywood Plus
    • TV:
          Mitsubishi Diva 33
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha DSP-A1
    • Speakers:
          Richter Excalibur
    • Centre Speaker:
          Richter Unicorn
    • Surrounds:
          Richter Hydras
    • Audio Cables:
          Monster RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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