Movie Production Change Over Time: Westside Story

The 2021 remake of Westside Story was directed by Steven Spielberg, famous for directing one of the highest grossing films of all time, Jurassic Park. Westside Story proved to be one of his lower ranked films due to numerous reasons sparking from development to an untimely release. The musical takes place in 20th century New York, and depicts a Romeo-Juliet-like love between a Puerto Rican girl named Maria and a white man named Tony. The two lovers belong to gangs, called the Jets (Whites) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans). Throughout the musical, rivalry between the two is depicted as Maria and Tony fall in love. However, they can not be together due to this rivalry, and the fact that Tony’s rival’s sister is Maria. The overall budget of West Side story was 100 million dollars, meaning that the movie would need at least 300 million dollars earned in global revenue. However, when the movie arrived at theaters, it only grossed about 36.6 million in ticket sales, becoming an official box office failure.
During the development of the movie, Spielberg thought that adding realism would strengthen its idea. However, the 1961 version of the film, which received many Academy awards such as Best Picture, had a bright and colorful set. There was a sense of joy and dramatism that gave the play a spark. It represented a love which transcends above everything

else, just like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The 2021 version of the play proved to do the exact opposite. The musical focused on a more real-life approach on the situation, which wasn’t as appealing as the old version. The set was dank and gloomy, which led to the play to have a boring and realistic representation, something that was not matching up right with its imaginative plot. As in Romeo and Juliet, the play ends in a tragedy. If there is already an ongoing tone of despair and darkness, then the tragedy is not’ emphasized enough. This completely destroyed the plot that the story was going for, in which happiness and hope is followed by remorse and suffering.
Another factor leading to this film’s demise was the unlikable attraction between the cast, particularly Maria and Tony. Scenes between the two came out as unpleasant, and the two had little to no attraction at all. Tony didn’t show enough emotion or a true love for Maria. His horrible expression of love destroyed the entire foundation of the movie. For example in the scene where they first met, the two seemed to have a child-like relationship, something that didn’t represent the true love between two people trying to be mature and understanding of one another even though they are supposed to be enemies. In the 1961 version of the movie, there was a focus on the lovers and zoomed everything else out of focus. Their dialogue shows a similar representation to how Juliet and Romeo first met, which was a love at first sight. The movie didn’t have a good focus on the two characters, which caused the side characters to take over as it went on. This zoomed out of the focus between the two lovers and made it seem like a side idea going on between a feud, which was the complete opposite of what occurred in Romeo and Juliet.

When it came to the release of the film, there were many causes which led to its failure. Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, moviegoers were hesitant to go to theaters due to a possibility of catching the virus. The movie was also aimed at an older audience, and that audience in particular was the most cautious since the virus could impact them the most. Another factor that led to its downfall was other movies being released at that time such as Spider-Man: No Way Home. Regardless of Spielberg’s impressive background, it wasn’t enough to hook enough people on board. The musical didn’t have a well renowned class, despite the phenomenal acting of Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose. Another musical released around the time called tick, tick, BOOM! had more well known actors such as Andrew Garfield, which also impacted the marketing of Westside Story. The movie’s marketers did not have good streaming options available like other musicals. This contributed to the film having a smaller number of watchers as well.

About nine months after filming Westside Story, Tony’s actor Ansel Elgort was accused of sexually assulting a 17 year old girl in 2014. This led people yo feel a sense of discomfort and fear when watching Westside Story. When Spieldberg and the cast were asked about Elgort’ actions, they gave small responses which caused anger to arise since the survivor wasn’t being properly accounted for. Many people who watched the movie began associating Tony’s looks when he stares at Maria with that one of a perpetrator and sexual offender.
Westside Story attempted to rectify issues with the 1961 version of the movie. For example, the Puerto Rican people in the 1961 movie were not actually Puerto Rican, but brown-faced Americans. Even though the remake fixed these issues, not all of the Puerto Ricans were actually Puerto Rican, which raises controversy. Since the remake focused on rectifying the

underrepresentation of Puerto Ricans, there were many scenes which were spoken in Spanish, which proved to be hard to understand fo native English speakers since there wasn’t subtitles in the theaters.
Overall, Westside Story flopped due to numerous factors, such as a false representation of the intended plot, an uncomfortable interaction between the lead actors, and bad marketing strategies. Since the movie was a remake, it was widely compared to the 1961 version which failed to fix the errors made in the old version. Instead, the movie added more problems to the already ongoing issues of the old version. The plot, which tried to emulate the love between Romeo and Juliet through a modern standpoint, destroyed the intense passion that was trying to be presented between the two. There wasn’t a flow that was shown in Shakespeare’s tale or the 1961 version of Westside Story.

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