West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition

As zesty and electrifying as ever, this marvellous musical takes well to its HD treatment

Forget Baz Luhrmann’s flashy contemporary update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise got there first with this magnificent bigscreen musical. Fusing The Bard’s most popular work with superb music, inventive dance choreography and expressionist production design, the film charts the doomed romance of two star-crossed lovers belonging to rival gangs competing for turf on the streets of New York. While the two leads are pretty anaemic and the story falls flat between songs on a few occasions, it’s more than made up for by the astonishing dance routines and memorable tunes.

Picture: According to the studio, West Side Story ‘has undergone hundreds of hours of restoration’ for this Blu-ray release – a fact that shines through in the Blu-ray’s sumptuous AVC 2.20:1 1080p encode. While there’s some very slight sharpening and even some shimmering backgrounds in a handful of shots, this new restoration excels with the film’s combination of thick grain, waxy colours and ultra-deep blacks. Most telling of all is the gym dance (Chapter 7), a particularly troublesome sequence with heavily-saturated reds, which are rendered perfectly stable in this Blu-ray encode, with even Maria’s virginal white dress unaffected by bleed. It’s hard to imagine the film could ever look any better than this.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: Thankfully, this Blu-ray release sounds every bit as good as it looks. The movie serves up two audio options – a DTS-HD MA 7.1 remix and a lossy Dolby Digital 4.0 incarnation. Unsurprisingly, it’s the musical numbers get the best out of the enhanced frequency range and tonal precision offered by the former’s lossless presentation. And while the track is clearly more expansive that the original sound design, it never feels artificial or forced. Use of the rears is actually pretty subtle and atmospheric rather than overtly aggressive. A fine example is the opening of the song Maria (Chapter 10), where the echoes carry into the rears before the rest of the music opens up across the entire soundfield.
Audio rating: 5/5

Extras: This two-disc set is packed with bonus features for fans to get stuck into. Alongside the film itself, Disc One offers up a Music Machine menu (allowing direct links to the film’s 20 songs), an all-new song-specific commentary by lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and the new Pow! The Dances of West Side Story, which offers up seven vignettes (19min in total) about the creation of certain dance numbers. These can be viewed individually from the menu, or via seamless branching while watching the film.

Disc Two houses the West Side Memories retrospective documentary, storyboard-to-film comparison reel and quartet of trailers that graced the Special Edition DVD, as well as another Blu-ray exclusive. The two-part A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy (29mins) takes a look back at the history and impact of the film (with particular attention paid to Jerome Robbins’ choreography), as well as talking to those it has influenced around the world.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: A beautiful Blu-ray package for one of the all-time musical greats

20th Century Fox, All-region BD, £20 approx, On sale now