When director Jon M. Chu first saw the musical In the Heights on Broadway in 2008, his imagination whirred to life with possibilities. “Imagine if this was in a tunnel and the tunnel lights up?” he remembers thinking while sitting in the theater. “Imagine if you could look through a window of somebody dreaming, and the community could be reflected in the reflection?”

More than a decade later, Chu is bringing these reveries to life as the director of the musical’s film adaptation, which arrived in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11. While other recent film-to-stage adaptations—like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami—have leaned into the intimate, contained aesthetic of theatrical performances, Chu’s In the Heights has the ambition and scale of the most epic blockbuster films, complete with hundreds of extras and dancers, vibrant animated graphics, gravity-defying Fred Astaire-inspired dance numbers, and plenty of slick camerawork and tricks of light.

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