Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ visually stuns, honors original


A promotional fold-out for Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of Westside story located at the AMC Hanes 12 theater. The adaptation was released to theaters Dec. 10 2021 and has received a lot of acclaim.

Eliza Gifford, Rooster Reporter

On Dec. 10, 2021, a brand new adaptation of “West Side Story” was released to theaters. Following a classic Romeo and Juliet storyline, director Steven Spielberg had enormous expectations to live up to, and he more than does so by incorporating fresh, new ideas and emotion without compromising any of the original story.

The new film follows the same plot as the original. It is a musical that tells the story of two rival New York gangs that are involved in a heated turf battle. Complications arise when a gang member, Tony, and the sister of the rival gang’s leader, Maria, fall madly in love while everyone else tries to keep them apart.  

When I heard a new version of “West Side Story” was being made, I did have my doubts. Making an adaptation of a movie that was an adaptation of a play sounds pointless enough, let alone trying to make it as impactful as the original “West Side Story” is. But this movie proves all those doubts completely wrong. 

From the first second of the new film when you hear the iconic whistles and snaps, there is a major sense of nostalgia. Some of the most classic and emotional scenes from the original are perfectly preserved and portrayed almost shot-for-shot. The music and setting are familiar and the story is fundamentally the same, but a few key features of the new adaptation really sets it apart from the original and lets it stand alone as an amazing film.

One of the main differences from the original is the deeper characterization. In the new version, side characters that were pushed out of the spotlight in the original are given more personality, which creates much more depth and emotion in the story. And it’s not just the side characters-Tony is given an emotional history, and though his love for Maria is still the main focus of the movie, the connections he makes with other characters and his backstory make his character complex and builds to even more pain at the end of the movie.  

One reason Tony’s character is so much more profound is the introduction of a new character, Valentina. She is played by Rita Moreno, who portrayed Anita in the original. I was afraid Moreno would be added to the film as a novelty character and maybe make a short cameo in reference to the original, but her character is written with a lot of taste and contributes greatly to the plot. 

A lot of the small differences that set the new movie apart come from just how well it is done. This may not come as much of a surprise, but Spielberg knows how to direct a great movie. This film was so visually appealing, and you could tell every detail was thought out. The use of color creates a stark contrast between the Jets and the Sharks, but at the same time unity between Tony and Maria. Where Spielberg chooses to keep some scenes similar to the original, he is able to make others completely unique. 

The songs are an example of one component that improves the film by staying the same. There are many notable differences in the way the music was done, regarding who sings what, and the order in which they appear, but all the lyrics and songs are still the same. The music moves the story, and the choreography and emotion that the actors are able to portray through the music adds so much to the film. I’m glad all the songs incorporated are classic. 

This movie is spectacular. Not only does it have a Rotten Tomato score of 92% and an audience score of 94%, it won three Golden Globes at the 2022 ceremony. “West Side Story ” was female lead Rachel Zegler’s film debut and she won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture. Her co-star Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress and the film won Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture.

Despite its glowing reviews and significant achievements, the film falls short in the box office. According to, the film collected just $10.5 million in its domestic debut, a dismal result for a movie of its scale and scope. Though it isn’t a box office smash, this movie is definitely one to see. It adds so much dimension to the classic tale of Tony and Maria and is easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen.