Home > Reviews > The rest of the (WEST SIDE) STORY

The rest of the (WEST SIDE) STORY

Well, I’d been considering going ahead and watching the West Side Story DVD that Netflix sent despite it not being in the right aspect ratio, so I decided to do some research about the film and its video releases and see if I could find out just how much of the picture I’d be missing.  Maybe the moderately widescreen ratio I saw when I started watching the disc would be close enough.  But I found to my surprise that the correct aspect ratio for the film is the 2.20:1 ratio of the 70mm SuperPanavision format it was shot in (the even wider 2.35:1 was for 35mm prints in certain theaters) — and the Netflix entry for the DVD showed that it was supposedly in 2.20:1.  So could I have misunderstood?  Could I have gotten the right version after all?

So I put the DVD back in and measured the aspect ratio when the overture screen came on.  (For those who don’t know, this was back when many films had actual overtures, long musical passages over still or empty screens, to give the audience time to file in — instead of the commercials and trailers we have these days.)  As near as I could measure it, it was pretty close to a 16:9 ratio, or 1.78:1, only about 80% what it should be.   Nope, not quite there.

But wait, I thought: the Netflix page says it’s 2.20:1.  So what if it’s only the overture that has the 16:9 ratio?  Just to be sure, I fast-forwarded through to the beginning of the film proper, where the abstract vertical lines on the overture screen fade into the Manhattan skyline and then an extended flyover of New York City, heading toward the West Side.  And after watching the images fast-forward for a moment, I realized…

It was fullscreen!!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

 So Netflix apparently sent me the wrong disc, or else they straight-up have the wrong technical info on their page for it.  Maybe, given how scarce copies of this film have apparently been at Netflix (since it’s been on “Very Long Wait” for ages), they ran out of widescreen copies and sent me this as sloppy seconds, or something.  Which isn’t acceptable to me.  While I might’ve settled for a version giving me 80% of the picture, there’s no way I’m settling for a 4:3 fullscreen format, which would give me only 60%.

But wait, there’s still hope.  It occurred to me just now, while I was writing this post, that it’s been a few years since I tried to find WSS at the library and could only find a fullscreen edition.  So between the previous paragraph and this one, I checked the library catalog, and they reportedly do have the special edition DVD in 2.20:1 format available, and I’ve put in a hold request for a copy.  Hopefully the library will come through for me where Netflix failed.

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