Few TV movies have lasting images. Visually they reflect the fast and cheap production values that are slightly above the average one hour drama. There’s no time to artistically frame the action. Most of them are completely forgettable. However Elvis opened with a bang. A frustrated King of Rock gets sick of the evening news and blasts the TV with his revolver. The shot announced that Kurt Russell was now an adult after a decade of teen movies for Disney. John Carpenter proved he could direct a film that followed a cultural icon instead of a homicidal maniac. The duo elevated what could be another forgettable Dick Clark production into the cream of the Elvis biopics.
The film was made barely a year after Elvis’ death, but the action only went from his childhood to his 1969 comeback in Las Vegas. Russell didn’t have to deal with transforming into the fat Elvis. He remained the sleek youthful Elvis without turning into a horrific nightmare blob. Carpenter wasn’t completely out of his genre. He presented Elvis as a man haunted by ghosts. He’s born as part of twins, but Jesse Garon died during delivery. During the quiet moments, Elvis talked to his dead twin brother as a way to stay grounded. Midway through the film, his mother (Shelley Winters) died. He gained another ghost. But in this emotionally dark time, Elvis found comfort in an extremely young girl named Priscilla (Season Hubley). While nobody called him a villain, Col. Tom Parker (Pat Hingle) was the obstacle for Elvis’ ability to develop as an artist. It’s Parker that makes him spend the ’60s in dozens of goofy musical movies. While the ‘60s gave us new idols, Elvis languished in a Hollywood studio making Clambake. It’s when when he goes beyond the plans of Parker that Elvis restored his image. His comeback TV special was backed up by a series of live shows in Vegas. TV news reporters thought Elvis was over. He’s a relic as the Woodstock nation rose. This nay saying led him to reach for his revolver instead of the remote control to switch off the TV. Would he choke on stage?
Even though the movie is positive, they didn’t get permission to shoot in the actual Graceland. While the front gate looks similar, the house and layout aren’t close to the real residence. There’s a lot of instances where things aren’t close to authentic. But that’s the nature of a TV movie’s budget. Russell comes off as the real deal even if Ronnie McDowell plays his singing voice. He doesn’t play Elvis as a doomed figure. There’s an optimism in the final reel as the King has reclaims his crown from those pesky Beatles. Russell puts on the Vegas show better than any impersonator. We’re not forced to see the decline of Elvis ending in the fatal visit to the toilet. We can appreciate his artistry and music at the end of Elvis.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. While the movie ran on TV in America, it did play theaters around the world. Nothing gets drastically cropped on the screen. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Things are fine for TV movie standards.
Audio Commentary by “The Voice Of Elvis” Ronnie McDowell and Author Edie Hand. Is OK, but not as electrifying as you’d expect from such a project.
Bringing A Legend To Life (10:13) is a vintage promo about Kurt Russell and John Carpenter tackling the King’s life.
Rare Clips From American Bandstand (4:52) lacks any real footage of Elvis. Mainly it’s Dick Clark asking the kids who they like more: Elvis or the Beatles.
Photo Gallery has 30 production pics.
While there have been numerous other biopics about Elvis, John Carpenter’s Elvis remains at the top. There’s a passion for the man and his music in this film. Kurt Russell doesn’t come off as a cheap Vegas lounge act. He’s invested in tapping into the emotions of being Elvis. It helps that as a kid, he acted with Elvis in It Happened At the World’s Fair. He glimpsed what the man was like outside the spotlight and when it was showtime. In a time when many were lampooning or denigrating the dead superstar, Kurt Russell gave him dignity. Elvis is a fitting memorial. This is a recommended buy for both fans of Elvis and devotes of Russell & Carpenter’s movies.
Shout! Factory presents Elvis. Directed by: John Carpenter. Starring: Kurt Russell, Shelley Winters, Season Hubley, Pat Hingle & Ed Begley Jr. Screenplay by: Anthony Lawrence. Running Time: 168 minutes. Released on DVD: March 2, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.