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On 4K Disc, Elvis Barely Explores Its Full Possible Grandeur

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Baz Luhrmann’s massively opulent and exhausting Elvis is a biopic that matches the gaudiness and size of the subject cultural icon’s legend. Tipping the runtime scales close to three hours, the Aussie director’s film was filled to the brim with style, sparkle, and boundless energy. 25YL’s full review from its theatrical release this summer, written by this very writer, shouts those praises while citing the excessiveness. You would think the physical media release for a movie like Elvis would match its spectacle and heft. Sadly, it does not.

Hitting store shelves this week on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD formats, this is no disc fit for a king, let alone The King. Elvis continues a dull trend from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (and, sadly, many of the rest of the major studios who are leaning to digital owners) of skimping on valuable bonus material and putting little to no effort in presentation. It’s a shame because, from what is seen documenting the production side, Elvis was a moviemaking odyssey worth celebrating.

Right off the bat, the disc spins to its main menu backed by an odd and nondescript sound of whistles and cheers. Unlike a chanted name of unified crowd energy, the randomness of the sound effect couldn’t be more annoying. One can understand the perky note they were going for, but it misses. Luckily, it stops after one 2-minute cycle. Until then, this disc will cat-call you to your couch looking for the mute button.

Once the looped cheers stop on the 4K disc, viewers who paid for the next level of high definition are greeted by a large gaping hole of missing material on the plain menu. Much to this writer’s surprise, there are no Special Features on the 4K disc. They are all stashed on the Blu-ray disc. That counts as a step down of attention, respect, and effort to bring consumers the best possible product in the topmost format. Few things are more disappointing for a physical media fan than extracting the primo 4K disc you put extra bucks towards to go backwards to Blu-ray to see anything unique. 

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The only selective content on the 4K disc other than the usual language and sound settings is the ability to skip to “Musical Moments.” Essentially a second glorified scene selection function, this arrangement is used more often on pure musical films as a means of jumping straight to the show-stopping numbers. The same can be said here for Luhrmann’s film and its many concert scenes. The nineteen demarcated highlights are:

  • An American Trilogy
  • Black Snake Moan/That’s Alright Mama/I’ll Fly Away
  • Baby Let’s Play House
  • Hound Dog/Vegas
  • Blue Suede Shoes/A Fool Such as I
  • Hound Dog/Are You Lonesome Tonight?
  • Tutti Frutti
  • Trouble
  • A Little Less Conversation/Viva Las Vegas/Cotton Candy Land
  • Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/Blue Suede Shoes/Jailhouse Rock
  • Up Above My Head/Let You Man/I Got a Feeling in My Body
  • If I Can Dream
  • That’s Alright Mama
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Can’t Help Falling in Love
  • Polk Salad Annie
  • Burning Love/It’s Only Love
  • Are You Lonesome Tonight?
  • Unchained Melody

After you swap out to the Elvis Blu-ray disc, you’ll find the extras you were looking for. Even then, the disappointment at the thinness is legitimate. The longest behind-the-scenes item is under 25 minutes. 

The thickest one of the bunch is the 23-minuteBigger Than Life: The Story of Elvis.” Baz Luhrmann talks about his fixation on American pop culture as a foreigner and how Elvis Presley was the ideal gateway to American culture and the notion of the American Dream for portions of three different decades. The selected creators and actors, including Luhrmann’s wife Catherinbe Martin and our lead and future Oscar contender Austin Butler, talk of their awe towards the titular historical figure. For Butler, this was a three-year journey of training and preparation included before the shooting. 

Overall, Luhrmann drops a dynamite line in this featurette that says it all with, “We’re not in the impersonation business. We’re in the interpretation business.” The feature doubles down to also voice how Elvis was a “bigger story than we realize and remember.” The compliments to and from Baz Luhrmann are numerous and rightfully so. 

One of the more unique and appreciated angles of Luhrmann’s film was the honesty presented about the diverse origins and sources of Elvis Presley’s music. The short featurette of “Rock ‘N Roll Royalty: The Music and Artists” touches on that nicely in eight minutes. The raw talent and energy of the gospel, blues, and country influences get their appreciation. The goal of Luhrmann’s time was wanting authenticity and not karaoke. Shannon Sanders, who worked behind-the-scenes and had a small role in the final film, is nicely spotlighted, as well as the arduous task of Butler and the band re-recording the unusable acetate masters from Elvis’s early 1950s work that could not be pulled for film.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Likely one of the first things that grabbed an audience member’s eye about Elvis was the visual style. Elvis was a fashion icon on multiple levels. The rhinestones are everywhere on and around those bedazzled costumes front and center on all the marketing material. The 8-minute “Fit for a King: The Style of ELVIS” gives brief kudos to incredible work from Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin and the 90 (yes, 90!) costume changes Austin Butler alone has in the film.

As she often does working with her husband, Catherine Martin performed triple duty on Elvis. In addition to the costumes and being a listed producer, she is also an Academy Award-winning production designer. “Viva: Australia: Recreating Iconic Locations for Elvis” shows off her extraordinary sets, including six blocks of Beale Street, the International Hotel stage, and the detailed interiors and exteriors of Graceland. Six minutes is not enough time to really appreciate all that is there from Martin and her small army of artists.

These four scant featurettes and a short lyric video for “Trouble” that is little more than a YouTube-level inclusion do highlight the right elements of Elvis. The problem is they are terrifically short versus the enormous scope of the movie and as over-produced as the movie itself. Each feature is briskly paced and hyper-edited where the glimpses are fleeting and set against external voiceovers instead of the in-the-moment audio being shown.

A directors’ commentary, or any commentary for that matter, would have gone a long way. So would a few deleted scenes, zero of which are present, which seems impossible. There was so much about the creation of Elvis that deserved to breathe more than it did. We can only hope a grander collector’s edition awaits down the road in a few years.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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