The Film (4/5)
I am a lifelong fan of John Carpenter, from the very first time I saw Halloween, I was obsessed. Like many genre fans I spent quite a lot of time watching everything I could get my hands on of his. Everything from the obscure Someone's Watching Me with Lauren Hutton to his masterpiece The Thing. I knew I hadn't seen every film of his, but thanks to Shout Factory's release of Elvis, I can now say I have.
When going into Elvis, I thought this would be a sort of oddity in his filmography, sort of like what Fast Company is to David Cronenberg. I wasn't sure I'd like it, I'm not an Elvis fan, and I very rarely enjoy biopics. But it is a John Carpenter film, and although the man has made some stinkers (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Ghosts of Mars, Village of the Damned) he more often than not creates films that are at the very least worth watching. This one can be added to the list of his great films, and is definitely worth seeking out.
John Carpenter's Elvis is anchored by an excellent performance by frequent Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell(this was actually the first film they made together). Kurt Russell perfectly captures the spirit of Elvis in his performance, and may very well be the best interpretation of the King ever put on screen. The film also co-stars Bing Russell (Kurt's Dad), and Shelley Winter's as Elvis' parents Vernon and Gladys Presley. The performances from both are very natural, and Winter's in particular is fantastic. It feels at times if she is sort of channeling an old Southern version of her Charlotte Haze character from Kubrick's Lolita.
Elvis opens in the early 70's. Elvis Presley is coming out of retirement, and is playing his first gigs in about 10 years. He lacks the confidence he once had, and wonders if he is up to the task. He then begins to reflect on his life from the time he is about 10 years old and getting his first guitar at Christmas, through his high school years, and his first taste of fame. It shows him go to war, and fall in love, and at it shows him fall apart due to the pressures of his sudden fame.
Elvis is considered by most to be the very first Rock and Roll star, and you would think that any movie that is based around the man, would be very music-centric. Elvis is not a musical, there is Elvis' music throughout the picture, but this film is more about the man himself. This film was made 2 years after the death of Elvis, and the film does not really touch upon the later darker years of his life where be became addicted to drugs, gained weight, and died.
John Carpenter's Elvis has been presented in a crisp 16 x 9 transfer. This is a TV movie from the late 70's, so I would not expect perfection, however, the transfer looks quite good. The transfer is quite excellent, and aside from a few moments is free of any sort of grain, scratches, or debris.
Shout Factory has presented Elvis with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, and unlike the restored transfer, this definitely sounds it's age. It is a very hollow sounding tone to the whole film, and while the dialogue is pretty clear the audio itself is definitely lacking.
The extra features on this disc are slim, but serviceable. The main extra is a commentary track by Ronnie McDowell, Elvis' singing voice in the film. It is accompanied by an episode of American Bandstand that is Elvis-centric, a short puff piece from the 70's called Elvis: Brining the Legend to Life, a photo gallery, and a booklet featuring an essay by Michael Felsher about how the film came to be.
While I will admit to not being a huge fan of Elvis, I thoroughly enjoyed John Carpenter's Elvis the movie. It is an interesting biopic, that is more about Elvis the man, then Elvis the musician. The transfer is clean, and the extras are decent. I would definitely recommend this to both fans of John Carpenter, Elvis, and Kurt Russell.
Also, Shout Factory has provided some video clips from Elvis for you people to check out. If you want to get a feel for the film, check these out below.