Steven Spielberg directs Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno and Rachel Zegler in this musical remake about the star crossed lovers caught betwixt the New York street rumbles of the Sharks and the Jets.
Much like Hitchcock and Scorsese, Spielberg has made so many classics over the years, that the standard with which one judges a later work can be cruelly strict to the point of perverse. Almost like the princess and the pea, you lie on a finely made bed, restless for any bump or shift that can cause discomfort. After all, you know this year’s project probably will not be another Jaws or Raiders so a whole new metric is needed. So you need to justify how far off a film is from those flawless diamonds, a comparison you’d never put the cinema of a lesser director through. And we have his remake of West Side Story. Lavish, the lovingly crafted work of a consumate professional. But also inessential. A few songs are swapped, characters motivations are tweaked. But aside from the prestigious care put into this production there’s very little to qualify it as a necessary remake. Spielberg hardly reinvents the musical genre, the only thing he really adds to the big hits are scale and a hundred extras. The Wise / Robbins original actually seems quite punkish and daring in comparison. And by keeping the setting in the early Sixties, one does wonder who is this for? Even the star, Ansel Engort (not the best singer in the world), had his big teen hit almost eight years ago. His fanbase have outgrown him. Luckily the support cast of unknowns are top notch with Ariana DeBose and particularly Mike Faist standing out. Yet as much as I enjoyed every move Speilberg makes, bedazzled by the polish… I just can’t see a future situation where I choose to watch this over the original. That feels again like an unfair measure but what if Nolan or Villeneuve in their dotage decided to remake Jaws or Raiders and the result wasn’t half as exciting? You’d struggle to recommend such a venture, as I’m struggling with this. Still his staging of (I Want To Live In) America has got the blockbuster goods and there’s nothing on either side of this genuine showstopper you’d dare call boring. This West Side Story is perhaps Spielberg’s most visually stimulating movie since Jurassic Park. The colours pop… but again the palette is a classy, vintage faded homage to the Oscar winning classic’s even more daring use of red, yellows and white we saw back in 1961.
Perfect Double Bill: War of the Worlds (2005)
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