Double-dips and frequent re-packagings are one thing, and we the astute DVD enthusiasts know how to handle such things: On a disc-by-disc basis. We compare reviews and press releases. We wonder about superior transfers, complain about missing theatrical trailers, ponder those mythical "isolated score" tracks, and we always keep an eyeball out for O.A.R.
To the 1.2 of you DVDTalk readers who might not know what OAR stands for, I'll explain: Original Aspect Ratio means that your DVD contains a movie presented in its original theatrical form. You are seeing the film in its intended size and shape. Period. Just as we'd hate to see a portrait or a painting chopped, sliced, or otherwise ruined for no good reason, we just flip out when people screw with our cinema.
We the DVD junkies can be fairly forgiving when it comes to source glitches, edge enhancement, haloing, pixelization, and any other geeky techno-jargon you can come up with. All we want is a movie to look and sound like the filmmakers intended. We don't buy these things because they're cool and shiny; we buy 'em because they have movies on 'em.
So can somebody out there explain to me why this happened?
I crack open MGM's "American Movie Musicals Collection" and sift through the goodies. Hey, Guys and Dolls, 1955, Joseph Mankiewicz, Sinatra and Brando as Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson. Classic musical across the board, and here it's presented in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Colors look lovely, the framing is great. Everyone's thrilled.
Up next is Fiddler on the Roof, triple Oscar winner from 1971. Norman Jewison, Topol, Joseph Stein, Molly Picon. Traditiooon, etc. It's a fine musical, although, despite my last name, it's simply never been a big favorite in my house. (For Jewish cinema, we stuck mainly with The Frisco Kid.) Presented with a fine 5.1 audio mix and a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, the film looks and sounds terrific. Great.
So now I move on to a movie that once won ten whole Oscars, a musical that's still adored and admired as it was back in 1961. One of the truly greatest granddaddies of American musical cinema: West Side Story. But wait ... what's wrong with my picture? Why's the movie look all ... bleached and bloated and ... shifty? Well what do you know: Packed as 1/3rd of a box-set entitled "AMERICAN CLASSICS" is an inescapably Full Frame Pan & Scan transfer!
Dear MGM, are you freakin' serious with this garbage? Follow my logic here: Anyone willing to buy a DVD box-set that contains West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Guys and Dolls is clearly a big fan of old-school musicals, right? So what the hell makes you think that that consumer wants to own a chopped, sliced, morphed, and mangled version of the classic that is West Side Story?
And what's most annoying is this: MGM has released two separate single-disc versions of West Side Story over the years: a (now out-of-print) widescreen edition in 1998, and a (still available) Pan & Scan hacker in 2003. Could it be that MGM hopes to sucker a few buyers into snagging this slick-looking 3-in-1 package, only to have that same customer end up seeking out the mega-swanky 3-disc West Side Story special edition because s/he wants the film in its original theatrical format? Frankly I have no idea why MGM would decide to toss a P&S hatchet-job into this box-set when they obviously have easy access to a fine widescreen rendition. (And while it's unacceptable for ANY movie to be remanded to Pan & Scan Purgatory, here we're talking about a movie that was absolutely made for the widest and most panoramic format possible.) Basically, pan & scanning West Side Story is like pissing on a Picasso.
The simple truth is this: The single-disc widescreen version of West Side Story is no longer available, which means if you want to own this classic movie in it original form, then you have no choice but to drop the extra coin on the big & swanky three-disc Special Edition of West Side Story. Had MGM opted to put a widescreen transfer of WSS into this "American Classics" box set, then they'd be losing sales on the the big & swanky set. Simple as that. Or maybe it's not, but that's the only logical reason I can come up with.
But the bottom line, musical fans, is this: If you don't already own West Side Story, I'd avoid this collection like the proverbial plague. Anyone who's enough of a musical buff to drop the coin on this three-disc set is probably enough of a musical buff to spend the extra greenbacks for a proper release, so I'll just point you toward our reviews of Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, and the one worthwhile version of West Side Story. The first two DVDs can be had for about 12 bucks apiece. This three-disc set, which contains two fine DVDs and one outright abomination, will run you about 28 bucks. Basically what I'm saying is this: Buy these titles separately. And don't ever buy a Pan & Scan DVD. If you do that they'll just keep making more.
Sorry for the rant, folks, but there's simply no excuse for a classic movie to be treated so shabbily. MGM refers to West Side Story as a classic, but they treat the thing like crap.