While the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg film is on Disney+ and HBO Max, West Side Story is now available to purchase on Digital.
For the time being, Laurent Bouzereau’s The Stories of West Side Story is only available to watch as a bonus feature via Digital and the upcoming physical 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD release on March 15. Laurent Bouzereau is one of the best in the business so I’m looking forward to watch the documentary. One reason why I prefer physical media to streaming is because of the bonus content. I rewatched a number of Steven Spielberg movies during the pandemic and watched every single documentary. If you want more, check out Bouzereau’s book, West Side Story: The Making of the Steven Spielberg Film.
For better or worse, filmmaker Steven Spielberg remakes the Oscar-winning classic West Side Story for his first movie musical. If you ask me, Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time so when it comes to Spielberg films, I will not lie that I have a bias going into them. He’s Spielberg so you expect nothing but the best. Make no mistake that West Side Story is going to get both critical acclaim and a lot of awards love. But at the end of the day, the thing I keep going back to is this: how necessary is it to remake one of the greatest musicals of all time?
That this film is necessary or not is the shadow hanging over the movie. You can’t not think about the original film while viewing because it’s impossible. Look at the casting decisions. Instead of Doc, they have Doc’s widow, Valentina, having taken over the shop. Wisely, they go with Rita Moreno. You really can’t cast anyone else in this situation. While it would have been nice to see Russ Tamblyn or George Chakaris make a cameo appearance, you couldn’t make a new West Side Story without Moreno. For what it’s worth, Chakaris also won an Oscar for his role as Bernardo. No guarantee that David Alvarez will do the same but he’s just as solid in the film.
As much as it pains me to see yet another remake instead of original content, the film corrects the Oscar-winning classic’s flaws. It’s a major plus to the Spielberg version of the film. For starters, Spielberg goes for authenticity in casting. We all know that Natalie Wood could never get cast in this film–not as María today. Even as I still mull over whether or not this film is necessary, there are plenty of phenomenal performances. Rachel Zegler delivers a star-making performance. We’re going to see her for some time to come. Meanwhile, Ariana DeBose is one of the shining lights in the same role that won Rita Moreno an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Put it this way: this role could very well win DeBose an Oscar. She’s nothing short of phenomenal in a role that gives her more work than Schmigadoon earlier this year.
This film pits residents of two adjacent Upper West Side neighborhoods, Lincoln Square (Jets) and San Juan Hill (Sharks). Basically, we’re west of Broadway from West 60th Street to West 70th Street all the way to the Hudson River. In the opening scenes, it’s being pointed out that the area is being demolished to make room for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
My last viewing of the original movie came during last year’s TCM Classic Movie Film Festival. As such, I’m not in the best position to compare shot selections and such. But my G-d, there’s no denying that the music is great because it already was great. Thank you lyricist Stephen Sondheim, composer Leonard Bernstein, and playwright Arthur Laurents. Jerome Robbins’s choreography is still at the top of its game. Again, the original musical is one of the greatest musicals of all time. The original idea in 1949 pitted an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family against each other in the Lower East Side. This changed to two gangs: newly arrived Puerto Ricans and the working-class descendants of European immigrants. Funny how things can change in a few years!
This is the thing I keep going back to: is Steven Spielberg adapting West Side Story because he has something to prove. He could make any film in the world. Spielberg could easily bring another Broadway show to the screen for the first time. At the end of the day, he chooses to remake a classic during an era filled with remakes, reboots, and sequels. You’re getting exactly what you’d expect from a Spielberg film: nothing short of greatness. But again, we’re already going into a film that we knew would be great because the original–casting and makeup aside–was already great. I think it’s more a case of Steven Spielberg proving to himself that he can direct a musical. Believe me when I say that Spielberg can do no wrong here even when he’s remaking an already great film. However, I still have my reservations.
Bonus Features (varies by product/retailer)
- The Stories of West Side Story
- Opening – Director Steven Spielberg begins the journey of one of his career goals – to direct his own cinematic version of the iconic musical. Doing so means he will embrace enormous challenges.
- Prologue – From the iconic finger snaps to the complex choreography, we are introduced to the film’s opening scene and explore its setting. We begin to see Spielberg’s vision take shape.
- Sharks & Jets – Meet the actors who play the Sharks and the Jets. Go behind the scenes of “La Borinqueña,” the song of the Puerto Rican Revolution, which was added into this vision of the story. Discover the deeper meaning of “Jet Song.”
- Dance At The Gym – Mambo your way through “The Dance At The Gym” and Justin Peck’s choreography, as it leads to the pivotal moment when Tony and Maria meet for the first time.
- The Romance – Explore the budding romance of Tony and Maria with the songs “Maria” and “Tonight” as Rachel Zegler (Maria) and Ansel Elgort (Tony) talk about the casting process, and what led them to this career-defining film.
- America – During a sweltering New York heat wave, the cast and crew take the production to the streets for one of the biggest dance numbers in the film, “America,” featuring Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita.
- Gee, Officer Krupke – Spielberg and the Jets make “Gee, Officer Krupke” their own through a new setting, vocal direction and choreography, while they explore the meaning of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. Get to know Iris Menas (Anybodys) and the significance of their role.
- Cool – During the first week of production, Spielberg and the cast nervously jump into filming on the elaborate and challenging set of the musical number “Cool.”
- From Quintet to The Rumble – Spielberg and his team navigate the intertwining scenes of “The Quintet” and “The Rumble.” Once there, they take a scene that is traditionally stylishly choreographed, and instead bring a more visceral authenticity to the fight between the two gangs.
- I Feel Pretty – Screenwriter Tony Kushner sheds new light on “I Feel Pretty.” We see how, in Spielberg’s film, the beloved song by lyricist Stephen Sondheim is given new vision, as it is set and performed within Gimbel’s department store.
- Somewhere – Hollywood Legend Rita Moreno, who won acclaim for playing Anita in the 1961 film, returns as Valentina, a shopkeeper’s widow, as well as an executive producer. She brings extraordinary experience and emotion to the film and sings the song “Somewhere.”
- Finale – In a moving testament to the talented cast and crew of WEST SIDE STORY, Spielberg reluctantly wraps “one of the best filmmaking experiences” of his career.
- Tribute – The late Stephen Sondheim reflects on his career and experience making WEST SIDE STORY in this dedication to the esteemed lyricist.
- Go directly to your favorite musical numbers from WEST SIDE STORY.
- La Borinqueña
- Jet Song
- Something’s Coming
- The Dance At The Gym
- Balcony Scene (Tonight)
- Gee, Officer Krupke
- One Hand, One Heart
- Tonight (Quintet)
- The Rumble
- I Feel Pretty
- A Boy Like That/I Have A Love
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITER: Tony Kushner
CAST: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Josh Andrés Rivera, with Rita Moreno and introducing Rachel Zegler
West Side Story is now available on Digital, Disney+, and HBO Max. The film will be released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD on March 15, 2022.
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