Let me get this out there right now so we don't have any misunderstandings later on. I'm not an Elvis fan. I've just never found his music all that appealing. Apparently he's some sort of a big deal though. Such a big deal in fact that my wife adores the man so much that I worry at times. Fact is, she loves him, and I don't. So, how does this all work together? Well, during the Movie Itself section I'll review all three films included in this set with my non-Elvis loving eyes, which I thought would be unfair to those of you who are Elvis fans. So I'm having my wife chime in with her Elvis fan take on each film in the form of her own star ratings, and maybe even a quote or two. Even if the quote is only, "Wow. Look! He was soooooo handsome."
'Jailhouse Rock' – The first film of the Warner's Elvis Collection comes from 1957 in the form of 'Jailhouse Rock.' Vince Everett (Elvis) is sent to prison after committing manslaughter by punching a guy in a bar and killing him. While he's in prison he bunks with Hunk Houghton, who starts him on a path to eventual stardom through singing and performing. Hunk is a solid country singer, but Everett can take it to a whole new level. Hunk sees Everett's potential, and has him sign a contract to split his earnings when he gets out 50 – 50.
When Everett gets out of prison he begins his quick rise to fame and is quickly noticed by a young publicist who takes him under her wing. They form a new record company, and Everett soon shoots to the top of the charts. He's on top of the world, making hit records, and even starring in Hollywood movies.
'Jailhouse Rock' according to the special features, is supposed to lightly resemble Elvis' own rise to fame and how hard it is to deal with the all the money and luxuries after coming from nothing. Having heard what a nice guy Elvis usually played in the movies, seeing him in 'Jailhouse Rock' was an eye-opener. He's mean and cocky (Elvis-loving Wife Quote: "I didn't like it. He's way too mean. He's Elvis. He's supposed to be nice).
I liked 'Jailhouse Rock' much more than I thought I would. Elvis plays his part straight with a cocky edge showing he really knew how to put on the acting chops when he needed them. The Jailhouse Rock sequence they do for their TV special is phenomenal, even today. After watching the features, and realizing the impact that song and dance number had on Elvis and music history I have a new found respect for this movie as a whole. Coming from a guy who doesn't really enjoy Elvis playing on the radio all that much, this was my favorite film of the bunch.
Non-Elvis Fan: 4 Stars ("That dance number was pretty spectacular.")
Elvis-loving Wife: 3 1/2 ("Elvis was way too mean. He's usually such a nice boy.")
'Viva Las Vegas' – The movie that spawned the (un)official theme music for Sin City, has Elvis playing Lucky Jackson, a race car driver who doesn't have any money to buy his coveted motor for his race car.
Instead of playing it straight like 'Jailhouse Rock,' 'Viva Las Vegas' is an all out musical, complete with random dance numbers and one horrendous musical number from Ann-Margret I'd soon like to forget.
One of the biggest problems with 'Viva Las Vegas' is it doesn't know if it wants to be Elvis' show or Ann-Margret's show. At times Elvis seems like a background character to Ann-Margret's, at times, dreadful overacting.
The entire film plays out like a sitcom, complete with a hotel talent show that promises prize money that could just buy Lucky's coveted motor. Lucky jumps up on the stage numerous times and serenades us with his famous vocals. This got me wondering why Lucky was trying to race cars when he could have easily taken the nation by storm with his enchanting vocals and his gyrating hips. Never take musicals too seriously though, right?
'Viva Las Vegas' may be a classic, but it's far too cheesy and confused to make me think it's better than 'Jailhouse Rock.' Ann-Margret steals the show, but in some of the most unflattering ways. There are some really fun songs here though, with the performance of "Viva Las Vegas" being the movie's crowning achievement. Still though, 'Viva Las Vegas' pales in comparison to 'Jailhouse Rock.' Elvis seems more consigned to pleasing the masses in this one, where as in 'Jailhouse Rock' he didn't want to do any dance numbers that weren't representative of who he was.
'Viva Las Vegas' is fine for a leisurely visit to Elvis land, but it doesn't do much to highlight the acting talents he showed in 'Jailhouse Rock.'
Non-Elvis Fan: 3 Stars ("Someone really needs to corral Ann-Margret.")
Elvis-Loving Wife: 4 Stars ("A lot of great songs from Elvis, and he was looking especially handsome.")
'Elvis on Tour' – The problem with the fictional movies mentioned above is that you never really get to see the person Elvis was. Sure he played some iconic roles in cinema, but 'Elvis on Tour,' gets you up close and personal with The King himself.
I think out of them all this was my favorite part of the collection. We've entered the 70s now and Elvis has gained quite a bit of weight and just doesn't dance like he did in 'Jailhouse Rock.' Even though he's lost his boyish good looks, as well as his killer moves, he's still able to belt out the ballads like no one else.
All the music aside, of which there is tons, the treasure possessed by 'Elvis on Tour' is seeing Elvis back stage, candidly, acting like there isn't a camera around. It's interesting to try and read his face. Sometimes he looks excited, but other times extremely bored and a little fed up with it all. At the beginning he gives a voice-over narration and explains that he never gets over stage fright and he tries his best every night to please the audience, and when he's out on stage that's very true. But back stage Elvis seems like a different person all together. There are times where he gazes out the car window looking exhausted and slightly annoyed. Seeing Elvis like this was an eye-opener. Much of the time he seems like he's being led around by his entourage instead of him leading them around. His happiest moments seem to come when he gets to smooch lady after lady who sprint to the stage. As a non-Elvis fan I had only seen Elvis in clips here and there and movies like 'Viva Las Vegas.' Seeing Elvis grow older (and fatter), losing his moves, but never his voice gave me a new appreciation on how tough his lifestyle was on him.
'Elvis on Tour' features a plethora of different songs as Elvis tours the country performing show after show. Your expectations for hearing his music will not be let down. As you're listening to the music though, try and notice the back stage subtleties that really seem to bring out his character. That's where the true enjoyment of 'Elvis on Tour' lies.
Non-Elvis Fan: 5 Stars ("The candid footage of Elvis is why this is worth watching.")
Elvis-Loving Wife: 5 Stars ("It was amazing seeing how women reacted when he walked into the building.")
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 'Elvis Blu-ray Collection' comes packaged in a sturdy keepcase which keeps all the discs separate inside with a swinging disc holder in the middle. Along with the keepcase, a nicely made cardboard slipcase is provided to put the keepcase in.
'Jailhouse Rock' – This film is presented in luscious black and white that accentuates the time period in which it was produced. The 1080p transfer of 'Jailhouse Rock' looks about as phenomenal as it can look for a such an old film. The black and white shines with the various shades of grays giving much needed depth and dimension to the picture. Detail is clean and pronounced, although soft shots are present. The individual follicles of Elvis' hair-do are clearly visible. Fine detail on textures, clothing, and faces is softer in nature, but even with the softness and the black and white, the picture still looks really good. Blacks are deep and rich, while white is balanced just right. Most importantly, the entire picture is clean and free of any digital noise or artifacts of any kind. Flecks and blips are hardly, if ever, seen popping up to obscure the picture. This is a great video presentation, which will keep fans of Elvis and fans of high-def happy for years to come.
'Viva Las Vegas' – Jumping into the 60s, 'Viva Las Vegas' makes use of stunningly bright colors courtesy of MGM's Metrocolor. The stylized, vibrant colors jump off the screen. The greenery surrounding the hotel they're staying at is lush and rich. Detail is sharper than it was in 'Jailhouse Rock.' Textures like clothing, dresses, and costumes take on a more three dimensional feel as we can see the weaves of the fabrics. Facial details are also amped up, although the stylized color does give each character a slightly waxy, unblemished look. That's ok though, just a product of that era of movie-making. Like 'Jailhouse Rock,' 'Viva Las Vegas,' is pretty much free of pesky source noise, providing a pristine looking picture. This is another great looking 1080p transfer and adds a much needed color boost to the collection.
'Elvis on Tour' – Because 'Elvis on Tour' was more of a documentary style piece of filmmaking, it was shot on 16mm film. While the reproduction of this film into 1080p high definition is one that accurately represents what the film looked like, it's still is much softer in detail than the above two films. We're into the 70s now, and everyone (except Elvis) is wearing the drabbest colors they can find. Dark browns, tans, and oranges permeate the color spectrum. Elvis counters the drab clothing of the day with the sparkly red, white, and blue suits that he wears to each concert, but even the bright suits colors still fail to fly off the screen like in 'Viva Las Vegas.' This has everything to do with 'Elvis on Tour' being filmed more like a low-budget documentary than a big budget film. Detail is quite low, but even with it being an old film and being shot on 16mm, it has been cleaned up so there is nigh a speck that pops up. There are a few scratches in the film, one such scratch continues through an entire shot. Still these scratches are never really distracting. We know we're watching an old film, filmed with old cameras, and stuff like that is well within reason to exist, even on Blu-ray. While this presentation doesn't pack as much of a visual punch as the first two films did, it wholly represents the look and feel of the original.
3 1/2 Stars
'Jailhouse Rock' – The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio presentation put together by Warner gives us a serviceable, albeit it slightly stunted, presentation. First off, 'Jailhouse Rock' (along with 'Viva Las Vegas') is missing a lossless mono track that would have been very nice to have. The newly mastered mix, complete with surround sound, sounds nice, but doesn't engage all that much in the surround channels. Much of the film is still focused up front, with dialogue coming in clean and clear. The reproduced music, at times, feels a little forced, as there are quite a few times where it is very apparent Elvis is lip-synching his lines, but the lyrics are being belted out of the center channel. There are just a few times where it doesn't seem natural sounding. The 5.1 presentation has limited range also, as the music reaches higher notes the soundfield struggles to keep up, resulting in the occasional screech here or there.
'Viva Las Vegas' – Another Dolby TrueHD 5.1 presentation and another subdued sonic affair that is another product of the recording limitations of the time. Like 'Jailhouse Rock,' 'Viva Las Vegas' has been remixed into a 5.1 surround sound presentation, which doesn't really add much in the way of surround sound. There is slightly more ambient sound in this movie than 'Jailhouse Rock,' like when Lucky and his friend chase the rowdy Texans from the casino at the beginning of the movie, but other than that the surrounds are pretty quiet throughout. LFE kicks in when cars rev up and engines roar, but besides the odd sound effect here and there, the subwoofer is hushed. Due to recording advancements that happened between the production of 'Jailhouse Rock,' and this film, it seems that this one had a bit more range. Less screeching when the high notes are hit, which is very nice. Again, I would have liked a lossless mono track to be included just so we could hear it the exact way it was meant to be heard, but this 5.1 mix arranged by Warner does a very nice job.
3 1/2 Stars
'Elvis on Tour' – Now this is what I'm talking about. It's not a surprise to me that as we progress through time, the sound on these films gets better and better. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio used for 'Elvis on Tour' is a booming arrangement, which is the perfect showcase for Elvis' legendary vocals. The range shown here blows the other two films out of the water. From cracking high notes to deep bass, this presentation covers all of its bases. Perhaps the most welcome addition is the engaging ambient sound of screaming crowds and fans that makes it feel like you're at the concert. Ladies yell, "Elvis!" off screen and the directionality places their voices exactly where they should be. The voice-over narration provided by Elvis every once and a while tends towards the softer side, and so do a few of the hushed conversation Elvis has with different members of his band and entourage. Taking all that into account, this is still a great sounding Blu-ray, and the first one of the collection that accurately depicts what the music and vocals should sound like in comparison to Elvis' lips and how they're moving. This soundtrack will please not only fans, but audiophiles as well.
'Viva Las Vegas'
'Elvis on Tour'
Since Warner is using the same disc they used for the digi-book release of 'Elvis on Tour,' we don't actually get any special features here. The digi-book came with a nice booklet, but the disc contained in this collection is bare bones.
My wife is going to be happy when she reads this last part and finds out that over the examination of this collection I've been converted from a non-fan to a casual fan. Elvis' music still isn't my favorite, but after watching him act and perform, it's hard not to respect the man and his infinitely catchy tunes. This collection is recommended for any Elvis fan out there who would like to see Elvis in all of his HD glory. The video, for the most part, looks as good as you can ever expect it to look. As for the sound, while we don't get the lossless mono tracks that would have been nice for us purists, it gets better and better throughout the collection culminating into a sonic feast during 'Elvis on Tour.' More thought could have been spent on special features for a collection like this, especially since Elvis fans are insatiable when it comes to learning about their idol. The featurettes that are provided are nice, and the commentaries informative, but there isn't anything here that causes it to stick out as a collection of extras assembled with fans in mind. Yes, even coming from this non-Elvis lover, this set comes recommended on all fronts.