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Elvis: Blu-ray Collection
Warner Brothers previously released pretty solid versions of Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas on Blu-ray a few years back but have no packaged them together along with the new Blu-ray release of Elvis On Tour and put them all together in the aptly named Elvis Blu-ray Collection. Some might be interested to know that Elvis On Tour is available separately, so if you've already got the single disc releases of the two previously released features you can buy it that way.
With that out of the way, let's dig into the set!
Directed by Richard Thorpe and released to theaters in 1957, this 'shot in Cinemascope' production finds Elvis playing a tempestuous young man named Vince Everett. At the beginning of the film, Vince has just received his week's pay and buys a round for the patrons of his favorite bar, including a rather haggard looking woman who flirts with him, much to the dismay of her abusive husband. Vince speaks up, a fight breaks out, and a few unlucky punches later the husband is dead and Vince is in jail for manslaughter.
It's in the big house that Vince bunks with an old time named Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy) who not only teaches him the in's and out's of prison life, but also winds up fostering Vince's music career by putting him on stage in front of a TV camera for a show that the facility is putting on. Vince's time is soon up and he gets out, but not before crafty Hunk gets him to sign a contract promising to hook up with him on the outside. Soon, with some help from a pretty music industry insider named Peggy (Judy Tyler), Vince's music career is starting to take off, but he soon finds that fame comes with a price and that there's more to life than just the money he so desperately wants.
Well paced and dramatic enough to hold our attention, Jailhouse Rock is widely considered one of Elvis' better films and for good reason. While he does show that certain detachment on screen that he'd become known for, it happens here only rarely and he winds up delivering a reasonably involved performance. Of course, the musical numbers are the highlights, with the title track being the stand out scene in the film and possibly the most famous sequence of any one of Presley's films, but in addition to that we also get pretty rousing renditions of tracks like 'I Want To Be Free.' 'Treat Me Nice,' 'Baby, You're So Square,' and 'Don't Leave Me Now.' It's also a kick to see some of Elvis' actual band members accompanying him while he's in the recording studio.
Elvis' character is interesting in this film in so far as he spends much of the film's running time acting like a complete jerk to everyone around him. Jaded by life and generally moping around feeling sorry for himself, he's surprisingly prone to violence, going so far as to smash his guitar over the table of an audience member who talks during his impromptu performance at a nightclub. His relationship with Judy Tyler (who would tragically die in a car accident shortly after the movie was finished) is believably rocky and realistically mismatched, but we still want to see them together by the end, while a great supporting performance from the gruff and tough Shaughnessy adds some character to the picture.
Viva Las Vegas:
George Sydney's 1964 film pairs The King Of Rock N Roll with sixties sexpot Ann Margret and throws in some great songs and a few nifty car chases in with the great period Las Vegas scenery to make a hot combination even hotter.
When the film begins, a race car driver named Lucky Jackson (Presley) arrives in town with his car towed behind him just in time for the first ever Las Vegas Grand Prix race. The only problem? He needs to put an engine in that car if it's going to have any chance at winning the big prize and he doesn't have the money to do that. Once Lucky manages to gather up the funds to put the finishing touches on his ride, but soon misplaces it once he takes an interest in Rusty Martin (Ann Margret), the beautiful woman in charge of the pool where he's staying and it disappears.
With the big race closing in, it doesn't look too good for poor Lucky, particularly when his rival, Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova), arrives on the scene, posing a threat to Lucky's shot at both the race, and the foxy redhead.
While Ann Margret hasn't really ever felt the need to talk about her relationship with Elvis Presley, if their on screen chemistry is anything to go off of, it was a doozy - if not, then they've never given better performances as actors than they do here. There's a veritable fire between the two of them that gives their scenes together a lot of punch and which helps to make a rather predictable, if wholly enjoyable, story a whole lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise. The supporting performances are all fine and Sydney's direction is strong (he has a knack for pacing musical numbers) but it's the Elvis-Ann collaboration that matters the most when it comes to what makes this movie work. Thankfully the production values are on par with the leading couple, and the film turns out to be really nicely shot with some great Las Vegas footage and some exciting race sequences anchoring the picture effectively.
While the film's detractors can easily focus on the film's formulaic construction, Viva Las Vegas succeeds on the strength of its performers and their natural, red hot chemistry. With Ann Margret matching Elvis not just with the acting but with the singing and the dancing as well, it's easy to see why this film is as beloved among hardcore Elvis fans and casual movie buffs alike - it's a whole lot of fun and made with a whole lot of passion.
Elvis On Tour:
Co-written and co-directed by Robert Able and Pierre Adidge in 1972, Elvis On Tour is a pretty interesting look into the Elvis of the early seventies. No longer the fiery young man who set the music industry ablaze in the 1950s, here Elvis' persona has taken on almost epic proportions. Not content to simply sing his heat out and wiggle his hips at the microphone stand, this documentary, much of which is presented in split-screen, shows a man hidden beneath a ridiculous wardrobe and a bevy of beautiful black female backup singers. Throughout all of this spectacle, however, is a man still very much in love with music and still dealing with some issues of his own.
A few clever montage sequences (some of which were put together by a young Martin Scorsese) show us what his early years were like and just how intense the youth of the day were when attending one of his shows, but the emphasis here is on the later years. Looking a little heavier and a little tired, there's a very sincere sadness to the man that likely stems from the literal burden of having to be 'Elvis' all the time. His reputation was so huge and his persona so larger than life that it had to have taken its toll on the man - interesting then that he admits on camera that he still suffers from stage fright before going on stage each and every night.
The concert footage that's been captured for this documentary is excellent, though there are better examples out there it's well shot and shows us first hand just how dramatic his performances could get and how into his work Elvis could be on a good night. More interesting, though, are the clips that show us what he was like backstage. These quieter moments are what make the movie essential viewing to anyone with even a passing interest in the man's music and history. We see him surround himself with his crew - Joe Esposito and Del 'Sonny' West and Red West are all visible, among others - but he doesn't seem to take any genuine comfort in their presence. More interestingly and rather touchingly we see his father, Vernon Presley, watch his son perform to a huge crowd from backstage. It's a scene that conveys a very real and sincere emotion, and one which takes on an ever more somber tone when you realize that only a few years after this film was made, Elvis would be dead at the age of only 42 (the same age as his mother when she passed away).
It's easy to dismiss Elvis, in his later years at least, as a bit of a joke but this documentary (which took home a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary) shows that his voice and his stage presence were always amazing and that underneath all the rhinestones and jumpsuits, the capes and the sunglasses, was a man who didn't quite know how to handle his situation in life. Absolutely the highlight of this set, Elvis On Tour is a fascinating, and sad, look at a man who took popular music to massive new heights only to fall far before his time.The DVD:
All three films in this set look pretty impressive for their age. Jailhouse Rock, the only black and white offering in the collection, shows strong detail and dead solid contrast, with inky deep dark tones, and clean looking bright tones with nicely detailed shades of grey filling in everything else. The VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is free of any heavy print damage, showing only some understandable grain here and there, which is never distracting or irritating in the least. This transfer isn't quite as detailed as other black and white films out there, but it's certainly a noticeable step up from the standard definition release from a few years back.
The two color films also look quite good. Viva Las Vegas, presented in a VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, shows great color reproduction and very realistic looking flesh tones. Fine detail and texture are both very strong and the pop-art color scheme employed throughout the picture really benefits from the added clarity that high definition offers. The source material used for this nearly flawless transfer had to have been in excellent shape, as there's barely any print damage at all and the picture is remarkably clean. Colors pop off the screen in the best possible way and you can almost feel the texture of the feathers in the showgirls' costumes during various performance numbers.
Elvis On Tour is presented in a 1080p VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks pretty good despite the heavy grain and periodic instances of noticeable print damage. The film was shot on 35mm but there are times where it looks like 16mm. Regardless, if it isn't going to floor you it does look pretty strong here. Colors are bright and bold and well reproduced without looking fake or ever appearing too hot. Black levels are strong and skin tones look pretty natural. There aren't any issues with DVNR and the grain structure is alive and well on this transfer, nor are there any issues with obvious edge enhancement or heavy compression artifacts. Detail won't knock your socks off but this release certainly offers more than a standard definition release could.Sound:
Jailhouse Rock has a nice sounding Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix alongside standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono tracks in English and Dolby Digital Mono tracks offered in French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in all three languages. The remixed tracks all sound fine, with the TrueHD being the best of the bunch in terms of clarity and level balance, but the mono mix sounds truer to the film and makes the gaffs in the scenes where Elvis lip synchs a little less noticeable. A lossless mono mix would have been nice, but that didn't happen.
Viva Las Vegas also has a nice sounding Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix alongside standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono tracks in English and Dolby Digital Mono tracks offered in French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in all three languages. The TrueHD track sounds a bit fuller and a bit more natural here than the one on Jailhouse Rock. It brings the musical numbers to life quite well without monkeying around with unnecessary directional effects just for the sake of putting them in there. Again, a lossless mono mix would have been nice for the purists who understandably want them included, but the TrueHD mix on this disc is a good one.
Elvis On Tour contains an English language DTS-HD 5.1 mix as the only audio track, though subtitles are provided in French, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish, Romanian, Norwegian, and Danish. This isn't a reference quality job, but it sounds pretty good with some nice channel separation noticeable during the performance scenes and some ambient noise filling things in nicely during the backstage scenes and the quieter moments like the one where Elvis drives in his car with his entourage. Bass response is good, dialogue is always clean and clear, and the musical numbers sound very strong.Extras:
Jailhouse Rock carries over the commentary track from Steve Pond, the author of Elvis In Hollywood as well as the featurette The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock. The commentary is more of a biographical trivia piece that covers Elvis' life at this stage in his career rather than the history of the production itself. It's a solid offering with some interesting information about the cast and crew. The twenty-minute featurette includes interviews with the song writing duo who penned the film's title song and a few of the other tracks, as well as input from experts and historians, most of whom seem quite enamored with Elvis' dance moves in the Jailhouse Rock sequence. The film's theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter stops are also included. All the extras on this disc are in standard definition.
Viva Las Vegas also features a commentary from Steven Pond, who does a fine job of noting how Anne Margret is the one we walk away from this one remembering and how this caused some genuine concern with Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker. He again provides some interesting background information on where Elvis was at in his personal life while this picture was being shot, and how Elvis' relationship with Ann Margret evolved during the course of filming. It's a good track with a lot of information that covers both the production's history and Elvis' life. Kingdom: Elvis In Vegas is a twenty-one minute featurette that explores Elvis' relationship with the city of Las Vegas, how he didn't exactly set the place on fire the first few times he played there in his younger years, and how all of that changed in 1968. The original theatrical trailer is included, alongside some classy menus and chapter stops. Again, all of the extras on this disc are in standard definition.
Sadly, Elvis On Tour contains only a static menu and chapter selection. The standalone release of the movie came packaged in a nice forty-two package color hardcover book, but in this set that didn't happen, and it sits inside a standard flipper case with the other two films, which in turn fits inside a classy looking slipcase. The book is nowhere to be seen.
If you already own the single disc releases of Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas then pick up the single disc release of Elvis On Tour - that way you can save a bit of money and get the fancy booklet that was included with that disc, as this collection doesn't offer anything more aside from the inclusion of that third film. If you don't already own those two pictures, which are rightfully regarded as two of Elvis' best, then this set definitely makes the most sense. All three pictures are well worth watching - the two features are as entertaining as anything else Elvis ever made and feature some strong performances and great musical numbers, while the documentary offers a fascinating and entertaining, if rather sad, look into Elvis' life on the road. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.