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ONE OF THE MOST OUTSTANDING MOVIE MUSICALS EVER!
on April 1, 2003
When "West Side Story" hit the Broadway stage it must have shocked theater critics. A balletic musical about street gangs and murder, with such an emotional swell built in, that even the most hardened cynics must have left the show dewey-eyed and humming the Leonard Berstein score. The film created nothing less than an international craze and garnered an unprecidented 10 Oscars - the most of any musical.
PLOT: In a nut shell, this is Romeo and Juliet in the ghetto. Natilie Wood (dubbed by Marni Nixon) is Maria; poor, Puertorican and in love with Richard Beymer (Tony). But her brother, Bernardo (George Chakaris) and his girlfriend, Anita (Rita Moreno) don't approve. If you know your Shakespeare, you know how this one ends. The difference here are the songs, so electric and outstanding that they easily steal the show. Try listening to "America" or "I Feel Pretty" without tapping your toes or "One Hand, One Heart" without getting goose-bumps. It's impossible.
MGM gives us some nice packaging and some extras but let's state the obvious first: this transfer is identical to the one previously issued on DVD. Having said that, the transfer is quite good, with a rich bold color scheme and fair solid blacks. But there are cases where edge enhancement is present and quite obtrusive. There's also a lot of pixelization in the backgrounds.
Certain scenes appear slightly out of focus, while others are so sharp that even with your televsion sharpness turned to zero, the image is rather hard to look at on the screen.
The soundtrack is very strident. Songs are presented at an explosive listening level that really rocks the house. But other bits of dialogue are soft or muffled. Some of the songs have a grating high pitch to them that really strains the ear. A moderate listening level is recommended to fully appreciate this audio.
Now for the extras - for starters we get a very handsome book that contains the entire script as well as personal reflections from the producers and cast and newspaper clippings of the initial reviews. The print quality of the book is okay, but the photo image quality herein is simply unacceptable, with smeared images of original stills and others that have faded colors.
Since this is a two-disc set, the movie is on disc one, with the option to listen and view with or without the intermission music - a very nice touch. Disc 2 contains a documentary "West Side Memories" that is somewhat disappointing in that not all the cast members have their say.
Missing from the proceedings are George Chakaris (Bernardo) who is still alive and should have been included. Yes, Natalie Wood is no longer with us but I find it hard to believe that she never gave any sound bytes to the press ever, with regard to her participation on the film. Marni Nixon, who dubbed for Natalie is also not present to lend her expertise and talk about the art of dubbing, which she did plenty of during Hollywood's golden age. There's also no Ernest Lehman - odd, considering how active he's been on other special edition DVD's.
This documentary is self-congratulatory and pretty much plays it safe. The premiere and the film's enduring popularity are glossed over.
On disc 2 we get the isolated intermission music presented a second time - for what reason, I'm not sure - presumably to fill disc space. There's also a montage of stills set to music and no less than five theatrical trailers - all of them looking pretty dull and worn out. Lastly, we get a shameless add from MGM, promoting its other DVD releases. That's pretty much it. A real waste of a second disc if you ask me. Yes, the documentary is fairly comprehensive, but it could have fit on side two of a flipper disc. Yes, the book is a nice companion piece but it's not printed with high quality in mind. The handsome packaging on the exterior hints to more hidden treasures than are actually found inside.
BOTTOM LINE: A genuine work of art. The transfer is nice, just not pristine. The extras are okay, but don't really live up to the excitement one has before taking the plastic wrapper off.