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Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition

Warner Bros. // PG // April 10, 2001
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Gil Jawetz | posted March 29, 2001 | E-mail the Author
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Elvis: That's The Way It Is marks a troubling point in the history of film restoration. The original version of the film was released in 1970 to show a more musical, down-to-earth Elvis than his recent movies had portrayed. The remastered, "restored" version of the film presented on the new Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition is radically re-edited. I kept waiting for the fan interviews and for certain songs, but they never materialized. That's because restoration expert Rick Schmidlin (Touch of Evil) for some reason decided to remove these sequences. He reasons, in a supplemental interview, that the new edit is more intimate and focuses exclusively on the King. I think it has to do with running time. With newly added songs the film would have been much longer than previous versions and something had to go.

Sadly, what's left is not too different from a concert film. The preparations for the concert are still interesting, especially a sequence that intercuts Elvis and the band rehearsing "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights" with footage of the background singers learning the same song from a record. Other than that, the movie consists of Elvis' performance at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Some of the songs (particularly early rockers like "Hound Dog" and "Blue Suede Shoes") are performed in the perfunctorily rushed style that Elvis had adopted by this point, but Elvis sings a few numbers (including "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and the insanely catchy "Suspicious Minds") with a strength and bravado that very few American vocalists have ever been able to achieve.

Elvis himself shows a good sense of humor here, which is good to see since this stage of his career was really his last hurrah. He looks fit and terrific, but over the next seven years would gain weight, lose focus, and become the bloated self-parody that has unfortunately overshadowed the initial work that made him a legend in the first place.

VIDEO:
The video looks great. It is anamorphic and is virtually free from any damage. Obviously some work has been done to improve the look, but time and low-budget still show through, particularly in some early sequences that are desaturated almost to the point of being monochromatic. But that's, as they say, the way it is.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is impressive. During the rehearsals the microphone situation is not ideal but by the time the band hits the stage the music is produced in all its full glory. The bass is deep and the mix is great.

There are English and French subtitles, but I should point out that they do not include the song lyrics, so the subtitles are virtually useless. This may have to do with the rights to reproduce the lyrics in written form, but it is annoying.

EXTRAS:
The extras are a sore point. An 8 minute featurette titled Patch it Up: The Restoration of Elvis: That's The Way It Is barely touches on the restoration process and even has Schmidlin bragging about removing the fan scenes from the film.The trailer is also bittersweet, as it shows clips of fans talking and of songs not in the film.

Also included are filmographies, bios, and other text information.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Is Elvis: That's The Way It Is great art? No. Are the excised sequences missed? Yes. They could have at least been included as extras. While what is left is not bad and would definitely delight any Elvis fan, it is not the original film. Imagine if such revisionist work were done on other films: "Hey, I restored Citizen Kane and cut out that stupid Rosebud subplot." Maybe I'm overreacting but still, the prospect is pretty grim, huh? Let's hope that this isn't a trend. Consider this one a recommendation with reservations.

Other Elvis reviews:
Elvis: One Night with You
Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii
Elvis: The Alternate Aloha Concert

Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.

E-mail Gil at [email protected]
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