Elvis Presley would have only been 75 this year if he hadn’t dropped dead in 1977, younger than Betty White during this year’s theoretical comeback tour. Since Elvis can’t hit the road we’re given the next best thing with Elvis: The Blu-ray Collection. The King of Rock and Roll conquers the world of high definition. The three films upgraded to 1080p include Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas and Elvis on Tour.
Elvis On Tour (1972 – 93 minutes) marks its digital video debut. The documentary covers a 15 date tour in 1972. This is Elvis at his peak when he was conquering Madison Square Garden and getting ready for Aloha From Hawaii. He’s not descended into the weight issues, his voice is at its prime and his moves are vintage. The filmmakers captured the action on 16mm cameras to get a true documentary look at Elvis. Normally this film size doesn’t bode well for a Blu-ray but the movie uses the images as part of a split screen process on a Cinemascope frame. Things don’t get too grainy except on scenes that are completely blown up and cropped from a single frame. The picture upgrade brings out the dazzling nature of his stage wardrobe.
Elvis had an amazing back up band with drummer Ronnie Tutt, guitarist James Burton, bassist Jerry Scheff, pianist Glen D. Hardin, rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson and the ultimate utility player in Charlie Hodge. He was noted for bringing Elvis his scarfs and water but also played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals.
That could have been enough for any other performer, but Elvis wanted a full stage to wow the crowd. He brought along a backing vocal section the size of the Morman Tabernacle Choir that included JD Sumer and the Stamps Quartet, the Sweet Inspirations and Kathy Westmoreland. That still wasn’t enough since he filled the rest of the space with an orchestra conducted by Joe Guercio. When he twirled his cape, people could have lost teeth.
The action isn’t restricted to the arena. Elvis records “Separate Ways” in the studio. He dresses for the sound booth like he’s rockin’ the Greensboro Coliseum. He lets us follow him along to his private jet for the next show; the Gulfstream II is not one of the two airplanes on display at Graceland. In the middle of the film we’re given a montage tracing the early years of the King of Rock and Roll, supervised by Martin Scorsese. There’s a quick tour of Graceland and the surrounding neighborhood.
During the rehearsals, gospel music quickly becomes the focus. No matter how evil Bible thumpers declared Elvis, his love of music came from the church. During a concert, he lets the singers perform a religious song without him. He’s in complete bliss listening to them. The closing of the film reminds us when the announcer said, “Elvis has left the building,” he’d already sped out of the arena in his limo.
There has been one musical replacement from the original theatrical release. The opening segment used to run with audio of Elvis singing “Johnny B. Goode.” Turns out Chuck Berry and his music publisher refused to return phone calls about what it would take to license the song. Instead we get a semi-bawdy version of “Don’t Be Cruel.”
A cymbal kick covers up the moments he’s going to drop an “ass” on the crowd. Musically the replacement works better as it prepares us for a playful look at the man and his music. The wait for Elvis on Tour to get a proper release has been worthwhile.
Viva Las Vegas (1964 – 85 minutes) is the peak of his movie career. He’s a singing race car driver that falls hard for Ann-Margret. Their chemistry is undeniable. Their duets and dancing make you forget about the plot. The colorful nature of the gambling mecca gets fully exploited in high definition. The opening credits shots of the Freemont Street casinos kinetic neon lights are as good as being there.
Jailhouse Rock (1957 – 96 minutes) puts Elvis behind bars. He’s a good natured guy busted for a bar fight that goes really bad. His cellmate is a country singer with minor success (Mickey Shaughnessy) that teaches him about the business. When Elvis gets out, he takes to the microphone to become a sensation. The twist of the story is when Elvis rejects the corporate music machine to become an Indie superstar, not even close to the reality of the King’s career. The highlight is his performance of the title song on a TV special that allows him to embrace his criminal past.
As far as the Elvis titles in the Warner vault go these three titles are the ones that most deserved to be upgraded to 1080p. While many of his movies can be considered guilty pleasures, Elvis: The Blu-ray Collection can be watched with pride. Elvis on Tour reminds us that he didn’t need lasers, giant video screens, dancers and smoke machines to wow a crowd. He dazzled all on his own.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. All three transfers look good. The black and white image on Jailhouse Rock brings out the grey scale. The color pops and dazzles on Viva Las Vegas. The picture book aspect of the split screen is fully exploited on Elvis on Tour. The audio of Elvis on Tour is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The subtitles are in English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Chinese, Magyar and about eight more. You can send this out as a gift to the entire United Nations. Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas have Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Mono tracks in English, Spanish and French. The subtitles for both films are in English, Spanish and French. This is the best I’ve ever heard any of these films.
There are no bonus features for Elvis on Tour.
Audio Commentaries by Steve Pond author of Elvis in Hollywood are on Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock. He puts his extensive knowledge of both films onto the track.
Kingdom: Elvis in Las Vegas (20:34) reminds us his first concerts in Las Vegas in 1956 was a bust. He returned seven years later to dominate the town cinematically. Various writers discuss how Viva Las Vegas rules because Ann-Margret made Elvis truly sizzle on the screen.
Theatrical Trailer (3:12) declares that Elvis has found his love match in Viva Las Vegas.
The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock (15:29) lets various writers discuss the iconic musical moment for the theme song. Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller admit at first they thought Elvis messed up the song.
Theatrical Trailer (2:15) opens with the jailhouse musical number. He’s finally sold to America as rebel who doesn’t mind throwing a punch to get what he wants.
Elvis: The Blu-ray Collection is the perfect way to celebrate Elvis Week with your HDTV. The King of Rock and Roll was made for 1080p with his shiny outfits and detailed snarl. All three films look phenomenal with the extra detail exposed in the frame. Long live the King on Blu-ray.
Warner Home Video presents Elvis: The Blu-ray Collection. Starring: Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret and Mickey Shaughnessy, Boxset Contents: 3 Movies on 3 Blu-rays. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: August 3, 2010.
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.