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333
4.5 out of 5 stars
West Side Story [Special Edition] [DVD] [1961]
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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2006
What can you say about a film over 40 years old that still has the ability to captivate, excite and delight? The basic premise is that of romeo and juliet, brought into the 20th century new york gang culture. The Bernstein score still sounds fresh and vibrant, with it's jazzy yet flowing rhythms and melodies and the choreography is incredibly multi-layered but easy on the eye. The dancing is particularly impressive, with russ tamblyn and george chakiris leading the way. Okay, the singing voices of natalie wood and richard beymer are over-dubbed, but this should not detract from a musical which has the best score of any musical ever (great lyrics, too), and also some of the best choreography. A visual and aural treat.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2011
This review is for the recently released (I only got my pre-order yesterday) Blu-ray version of West Side Story. I couldn't wait to get the item out of its packaging and slotted into my Blu-ray player! I have waited years to watch this film in more or less the same video quality as I saw it on its release!

Well I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that some aspects of this film have become a bit dated. However, this is an absolute classic musical and there is so much to savour and enjoy. The music is magnificent as is the dancing and choreography.

The main purpose of this review is to pass comment on the quality of the new Blu-ray release. Is it worth the upgrade? My answer would be an emphatic `Yes'! The new release is superb. The colour palette is much improved with generally rich colours and good blacks and the picture is much sharper with better overall clarity. The sound quality is also excellent with a couple of options for the English listener. I chose the 7 track DTS default version which provided a very satisfying sound quality.

The new release comes with a modern picture in picture menu system and the useful `bookmark' feature so that you can personally mark all your favourite pieces. The film is presented in its original theatrical release complete with the intermission music. There are a whole host of extras which I have yet to view and my first impressions of this release are very favourable.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2009
The Academy got it right for once in 1961, crowning this masterpiece with 10 Oscars. All these years later, it looks and sounds absolutely stunning - slight reservations about Richard Beymer's Tony apart [I feel guilty about even saying that], it remains an almost flawless representation of what Hollywood does best. Of course, a great part of it is down to Leonard Bernstein's timeless score - Maria, Somewhere, Tonight, America - who could cram so many great songs into a musical these days? [What I've never understood is why Bernstein wasn't nominated for an Oscar]. Jerome Robbins's choreography is breathtaking and executed pefectly by the cast - look at the Cool sequence, particularly the tracking shot, and the exuberant America, and Robert Wise's direction was groundbreaking. Natalie Wood is wonderfully touching as Maria, Rita Moreno a peerless Anita, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris are both perfect, the supporting cast committed and working wonderfully as an ensemble.
No film musical has reached these heights since. For all its theatricality, I defy anyone to remain unmoved by the closing sequence. This is one of the indisputable classics of American cinema.
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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
I remember seeing 'West Side Story' for the first time in a Glasgow cinema in the 1970s when I was about 18 and being bowled over by it. I had never seen anything like it - in particular, the energy and expressiveness of the dance sequences were a new experience for me. It mirrors the 'Romeo and Juliet' story (which I did know) cleverly and effectively - there's a Prince, a Friar Lawrence, a Nurse and so on. The music is marvellous and the central performances excellent. I'm glad that it is now known that Marni Nixon was the wonderful singer who sang for Natalie Wood (she deserves that credit), but this does not detract from the pathos of the actress's performance ; she looks and behaves exactly as Maria should. It was a ground-breaking musical when it came out and there has been nothing since quite like it, so to have it in DVD is not just good but essential.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2004
If you love west side story this collectors edition is for you. The accompanying scapbook is divine, full of lots of information about the casting and making of the film, the stage play, and the entire film script. Then when you are finished reading the book you can watch the magic. I bought this for my sister and kept it for myself, i just returned to buy another copy for her - hope it's here in time for her birthday! Sorry Liz!!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2010
I had the CD but thought it would be nice to see the pictures as well as I haven't seen the film for many years

What a shame that the lip sync is so far out. Makes it almost unwatchable. I don't know if it was always that bad or if this is some kind of new digital improvement
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2005
Jerome Robbins' stunning choreography, Leonard Bernstein's classic score and Stephen Sondheim's unforgetable lyrics make this a classic masterpiece you'll never tire of watching! A must-see movie.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2000
As a Key Stage 2 teacher, teaching dance, drama and the literacy hour, there has never been a media that has captured my class' imagination like West Side Story did. The smoothly styled dancing makes the dancing as appealing to both boys and girls of various ages. It can be used as a great stimulus from the simple comparisons between the film and Romeo and Juliet, to the comparisons of gang fighting within a local area. Certainly gets a gold star from me!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2012
En français

Romantiquement parler, le crescendo délicat d'amour inachevé domine ce classique puissant (facilement une des comédies musicales dramatiques les plus fines jamais ont produit). Le déplier d'amour, la passion, et l'intimité entre Tony et Maria, comme le riptide, renverse dans l'âme de ce film. Leurs mots chuchotés et orchestré sur le balcon créent des nuances au-delà du royaume de drame normal. Leur mariage avant que Dieu établit leur union, solidifie le crescendo romantique, et permet à Maria pour porter le deuil la mort de son mari à la fin. C'est une tragédie complète sur tous les niveaux respectifs.

Toutes les réunions entre Tony (joué par Richard Beymer) et Maria (joué par Natalie Bois) étourdissent dans la présentation. Les ouvertures musicales sont superbes, la danse est brillante, et le conflit entre les Jets et les Requins (les femmes ont inclus) a sa propre originalité dans les termes classiques. Pourtant, Maria ordonne seul l'étape dans pratiquement tous les moments tendres (sauf ces Anita impliquant) ; notre douceur de l'héroïne, l'intelligence, et la sagesse non testée établit son contrôle brûlant du jeu (commence à finir). Dans autant que son humilité ne diminue pas les autres exécutions puissantes, Maria affiche l'honneur, le sacrifice, la profondeur, et l'engagement à travers le drame entier. Nous observons Natalie Bois dans son heure la plus fine comme une actrice douée.

Les principes de dominante de tragédie romantique ce jeu dans son adhésion prudente au développement de complot et caractère dans Shakespeare Roméo et dans Juliet (qui est le mentor de Maria inexprimé dans les questions de passion et de contrôle d'un amant). Elle réoriente Tony loin de l'idylle sécrété dans les conséquences tragiques d'interférence avec le grondement ; les morts de Bernardo (son frère) et le Riff (ami de Tony le plus proche) sont relatés (dans l'ironie dramatique) à son intervention secrète (soit-disant sur leur part). En réalité, ce chef-d'oeuvre réside dans les deux catégories, les deux tragédie et les deux idylle ; la limite (peut-être) par sa voix mélancolique, « Faire ne vous le touchez pas » ! Notre catharsis est directement affectée par la jeune passion de Maria liée à l'amour inachevé dans ses la plupart des étapes délicats.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This film is a myth, like the musical it comes from. It has been alive and a success as a musical for more than 50 years and about the same for the film when it became a VHS tape and now a DVD. It is doomed to be a lasting success and hence a classic in its genre and in its field.

Of course it is a rewriting of Romeo and Juliet but with some kind of a twist. The twist is that the two young people are simple young people and not members of the aristocratic families of an ancient city. They are second or third generation immigrants in New York of European origins, the jets, versus the first generation immigrants from Porto Rico, the Sharks. The girl is a Porto Rican and the boy is a New Yorker. In fact the first fight is very similar in a way to what happened in Shakespeare's play. Riff is killed by Bernardo, Bernardo is killed by Anton and there is the twist. Chino picks up the vengeance of Bernardo and runs after Tony and he will shoot Tony in the arms of Maria who will survive. Tony's body will be taken away by members of both gangs.

Of course the context is completely different and the New Yorkers are very good at mocking other people, cops, judges, head shrinks and social workers and at depicting their fate as the most dramatic and tragic alienation, exploitation and dereliction. They all are born Mercutios. They are the victims of the smoke of tobacco and other stuffs, the fumes of alcohol and other wines, the beatings of their fathers and other parents, etc. They are just discrete on the sexual part because of the time (1961 for the film) and the targeted audience that has to be a family audience even if it is Parental Guidance on my DVD.

There is not much to add to this since the twist does not really change Shakespeare's lesson. Bigotry, racism, hate and a few other of these subhuman passions are dominant with simple people in any society and they guide their passions, feelings, actions and reactions. These simple people can kill in a mob and even individually when such emotions take hold of them. And after that there is nothing left for the survivors to do except to cry and suffer in silence if possible.

But this film, then VHS tape and now DVD brings up a completely different discussion. The musical was for an elite audience, that of the Broadway theatres. The film was for a wider public though the cinemas needed to be equipped in wide screens, color projectors and sound systems of quality. It anyway reached a wider audience than the play. The film amplified the success of the musical. The VHS tape came later and in fact was the cause and amplification of the first revival twenty years later. The DVD was in the same way the cause and the amplification of the second revival of the musical some twenty more years later. Each revival went along with a vast tour in the USA and Canada but also all over the world, especially the second since many cities are now equipped in special large halls for such super productions.

But the live musical and the DVD are not the same.

The live musical takes you into the magic of a show on a stage with lights and sets that are supposed to fascinate you, with actors, singers and dancers that are supposed to mesmerize you and a music that is supposed to charm you. But you are sitting in one place and cannot move and you can at best use special binoculars to zoom on some actors or singers but then you lose the wide picture. A show like this one is of course entirely nourished with conventions in the acting, the singing, the performing, and so on, of every single artist on the stage or in front of the stage or anywhere else in the house. Conventions and trade-unions that can at times dictate the rhythm of the show. The spectator is supposed to let him/herself slide into that magic and enjoy both visually and auditorily but the heavy machinery that produces the lights, the amplification and the various physical elements of the show take you for a real dance and you may fly into the show. The very strong sentimental scenes and situations may carry your emotions away too. But that will remain moderate due to the distance between you and the characters.

The film, VHS and then DVD are free of such constraints, at least for you. This film uses a real location, New York itself from the very start wince we come from the sky to land in the street of the West side of Manhattan after a slowly zooming overview down into the streets from the sky. This real location is of course an enormous change because of the liberation it provides the actors, singers and dancers. They have space, they can move, climb, run, and do many other things without any limits, or nearly none. They can play basketball in real conditions. They even have cars in the street and the cops come into the various street situations with their cars blinking blue end red like some bleeding heart.

The second change you perceive from the very start is of course the great mobility of the camera. You can shift from one angle to another instantly and that creates movement in the picture and on the screen since you are constantly capturing the situation from a myriad points of view. This acceleration of the camera's movements and multiplication of shooting angles really project you into the action or suck you up into it if your prefer and you are a lot more involved in the action, in the film. You are no longer a simple voyeur. You are part of the action itself.

This is multiplied by the fact that the camera is constantly zooming onto faces and bombarding you with close-ups that enable you to see the facial expressions of the actors, their tears and their suffering, their joy and their pain. You are deeply moved in your own sentimental emotions by this closeness to the actors and you may not identify with one particularly actor or actress, but you definitely feel part of the situations that are constructed on the screen. The production becomes deeply multi-sensorial, though not all-sensorial, which makes you keep a mental reflective distance, especially since you constantly keep in mind Shakespeare and so many other love dramas you know, from the Titanic to Love Story. Note this empathy you feel in front of this film comes from your famous mirror neurons that make you project yourself into the emotions of other people.

The film knows how to maintain this distance which is basic with a wide screen film. A film is not supposed to swallow you up and make you be an enjoying machine that has no mind.

Here the film very precisely uses some means to remind you how you must keep that mental reflective distance. The opening sequence with its changing colors on a simple sketch of New York, then the slow descent into New York. It is artificial enough to tell you that you are supposed to keep your mind alert. The dancing itself is a distance building device, just as much as the singing, since as far as I know people don't sing in everyday situation, and you probably cannot really identify yourself with that dancing or singing since you are not a member of these professions.

The film also uses lights to create such a distance by building luminous situations that are not realistic like red lights under the highway. The night scenes are particularly eerie and your mind reacts in a way or another to identify the nature of the atmosphere, the premonition contained in the scene.

Finally the credits at the end leave a fully realistic set behind and write most names as graffiti on brick walls, stone walls, concrete surface, palisades of all types and particularly a palisade only made up of old doors, to finish with road signs that are orders to turn left or not turn right, of stop, or not walk on the grass. There you know that you are in a film, that you have to keep a distance, that your mind is supposed to stay alert and fresh, and that you are supposed to come back on earth.

The film is thus a perfect example of what can be done with a musical. It becomes a real film that associates a multi-sensorial experience and yet a mental reflective distance, and at the same time some acting conventions, the dancing and the singing, the music even, are there to both charm you and keep you alert. And you sure have quite a plateful of thinking to do all along the film and you are nourished and fed with the necessary energy to chew your food properly. Have a good digestion.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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