DVD Review: Put yourself in the place of the world's most influential musical artist of the 20th century, circa 1972. In less than two decades, you've charted 132 singles (including 38 Top 10s and 18 #1 hits), recorded over 50 albums, starred in 33 films, headlined a Peabody Award-winning/critically hailed television special ('68 Comeback), won two Grammys, shattered concert attendance records in the US, earned enough gold records to occupy an entire wing of a mansion and can lay claim to being on a first name basis with the world: Elvis.
So what's left for the King of Rock and Roll to do in terms of a creative challenge?
Colonel Tom Parker, in his 17th year of service as manager to the world's most popular live act, in the fall of 1972, announced that Presley would headline a live television concert from Honolulu, Hawaii to be televised worldwide via satellite, the first such event of its kind.
Memphis' favorite honorary son couldn't have been in better hands thanks to highly skilled producer-director Marty Pasetta (Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour alumnus and Hollywood's soon to be go-to control booth guy for many an Academy Award night), a topnotch band and of course, the lovely state of Hawaii. For those not in the know, the 50th state had played a vital role in Elvis' career over the years. Not only would it become his favorite vacation destination, it was also the site of some legendary early performances, including a 1961 charity show that unintentionally became a farewell gig of sorts as Hollywood would beckon for the next seven years. Speaking of which, his 1961 film Blue Hawaii probably did more for the island's tourism than a million travel agencies. During the midst of on-location shooting, Elvis and Colonel Parker donated all the profits from their recent benefit concert toward the building of a memorial site for those who perished aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in 1941; it would be one of Presley's proudest moments when he returned four years later during the making of Paradise, Hawaiian Style to see the completed tribute he helped make a reality.
Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii commemorates the performer's historic return to the island in a lavish two-disc set. In addition to the global concert of yore, the rarely seen rehearsal show from two nights earlier is also included amongst the extras. Often the subject of critical debate amongst music scholars and Presley faithful over the years, Aloha's critical reception in the years that followed was mixed. In fact, one reviewer called Elvis' historic tossing of his bejeweled cape into the audience during the climatic final chord changes of I Can't Help Falling in Love with You the 'highlight' of the evening.
To be honest, this isn't the same man who prowled like an panther on that classic NBC special of five years earlier. Besieged by occasional boredom and personal difficulties, Elvis' more ballad-oriented song selection during this period of his career reflected his heart and soul, a quality that more often than not became the impetus for some stirring performances with many definitive versions emerging via this big event: You Gave Me a Mountain, the middle of the road Frankie Laine tune that Presley infused with soul and feeling; a bluesy take on the Hank Williams classic, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (sadly, a planned album filled with Presley interpretations of the legendary songwriter's biggest hits never materialized); It's Over, a beautifully executed cover of a Jimmie Rogers single Elvis rescued from obscure oldie oblivion; the utterly lovely I'll Remember You (buried as a bonus track on 1966's Spinout soundtrack), written by Hawaiian tunesmith Kui Lee, one of Elvis' favorite artists whose career was cut short by cancer (all $75,000 in concert receipts from both 1973 Honolulu shows were donated to the performer's memorial fund); and, of course, An American Trilogy, an under-performing 1972 single that combines images of Southern pride and gospel fervor, which fit the Tupelo native like a glove. Three decades onward, those trumpets hailing the final repetition of the chorus, Elvis' breathtaking high note at the end, and the thunderous ovation of that Honolulu Convention Center audience in response still delivers chills.
Though ballad heavy, the King didn't neglect his rocking contingent with stellar versions of Johnny B. Goode, a swinging A Big Hunk O' Love, Suspicious Minds, the slow-burn of Fever, and a fabulous reworking of James Taylor's Steamroller Blues (which became a surprise Top 20 hit at the time of the American broadcast of the special).
One of the joys in revisiting Aloha is getting a chance to see what an amazing handpicked live unit Elvis' back-up group had become since the summer of 1970: lead guitarist and master of the paisley Fender Telecaster, James Burton (the 1957 version of Suzie Q, original Ricky Nelson guitarist, studio musician who played with everyone from Dean Martin to The Monkees, recent Jerry Lee Lewis sideman); Jerry Scheff, always 'on the Fender bass' (bassist on The Door's classic L.A. Woman album; mid-1980s Elvis Costello band member); stickman Ronnie Tutt (Billy Joel's debut Piano Man, longtime Neil Diamond drummer); Glen D. Hardin, the incredibly versatile keyboardist whom Elvis dubbed the 'fastest piano player in the world' (post Buddy Holly-era Crickets, John Denver accompanist); and close friend/rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson (mid-'70s Kingston Trio).
And who else could have organized an eclectic mix of accompanying singers whose backgrounds included Southern Gospel, late '60s soul, and the Metropolitan Opera? Yet the combination of J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet, The Sweet Inspirations and soprano Kathy Westmoreland gelled perfectly. With harmony vocalist/stage manager/scarf wrangler Charlie Hodge and the Joe Guercio Orchestra providing the icing on the cake, you had a backing ensemble... fit for a King.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
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Image Transfer Review:Like the recent release of '68 Comeback, DVD producers Gary Hovey and Todd Morgan were fortunate enough to have access to complete concert-length footage from two of the main stage cameras at their disposal. In addition to all available visual materials completely restored, both the rehearsal show and the main broadcast have been re-edited from scratch (thanks to Ray Miller of Technicolor Creative Services, who did wonders under similar circumstances for the bonus material on '68 Comeback) and the results are mind boggling, particularly for the latter performance. Things that always nagged me about the 1973 NBC broadcast in reruns, like grainy camera angles, shaky shots, and quadruple imagery are nothing but archival memories; there's more up-close action of Elvis (or as the producers like to call it, 'maximum Elvis'), additional interaction between his audience and band members are much better utilized in this re-cut (one memorable example occurs during the dramatic climax of An American Trilogy when Presley goes for and achieves that unforgettable high note; you can see the passion on his face, an image that's adorned many books over the years, but now you see it in motion). Save for a few relatively minor age-related visual anomalies, the picture is remarkably colorful and at times, displays a 'you are there' quality that's extremely striking.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Going back to the 16-track master tapes courtesy of RCA (Presley's longtime record label), Aloha has never sounded more vibrant, more alive. Since its original accompanying soundtrack release has always sounded so flat and horribly trebly due to a poor, rushed 'let's get a new product on the market quick' mix, no wonder naysayers weren't initially won over. Thanks to the wonders of 5.1, you can finally feel every nuance of the band from the high-end sting of Burton's guitar to the brass section of the Joe Guercio Orchestra the way they were meant to be heard. Let's don't forget the star of the show, whose vocals sound velvety smooth and up front without overshadowing his musicians; a mix that Elvis would no doubt have heartily approved. There's also a 2.0 option that recalls the project's more traditional mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 91 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 88 cues and remote access
Packaging: Book Gatefold
- Elvis Arrives: Raw Footage as Elvis Arrives in Hawaii
- Complete Aloha Rehearsal Concert
- Complete Post Concert Recording Session
- Original 1973 NBC Broadcast of 'Aloha from Hawaii'
Extras Review: Though the number of extras pales in comparison to the '68 Comeback, Aloha's supplemental bonuses are nothing to scoff at. Among the inclusions is a true delight for those who never purchased the barely promoted Rehearsal Concert from Lightyear Entertainment; it's included in its entirety for the very first time (including missing songs that were sadly omitted on initial release due to copyright issues). Recorded as a back-up in case satellite gremlins prevented the January 14th show from being transmitted, a looser Presley (spurred on by a wilder audience) gives what some fans call an even better show than the big event; there are key pieces of musical evidence that are hard to argue with: a smoking Steamroller Blues with a much different solo from Burton that tops the broadcast version; Suspicious Minds, about as tight as that adolescent fan that just couldn't let go of the King in the homestretch; and the near operatic flourish of What Now My Love, whose tempo brings to mind one of Presley's vocal heroes, Roy Orbison. It's a good thing the run-through is musically appealing because technically, it's very hit and miss, due to inconsistent lighting among other things. Thankfully, the same production techniques and archival touches applied to the re-mastering of the final concert are also in evidence here. Morgan, Hovey, and Miller do a phenomenal job working with what they had to maneuver around the shortcomings in this semi-director's cut , but on a night when the King was having the moonlight equivalent of a bad hair day (comforting thought for us Elvis wannabes who just couldn't get our dos to completely match his, isn't it?), the stars weren't in alignment for a perfect show, at least technically. And now, you know why they call it a rehearsal.
In a treat for those of us who watched NBC's 1973 American broadcast in April of that year, that version (sans commercials) is included on Disc 2 with re-mastered picture and original monophonic soundtrack (encoded into Dolby Digital 2.0). Included for historical purposes, its fun to look at this and see just how goofy some of what we thought were far-out video effects back then (remember the quadruple screens that captured Elvis from four different angles? I wonder if this inspired Nicolas Cage's Tiny Elvis skit on SNL). Let's not forget the rapid-fire cutting during See See Rider and Big Hunk which uncannily foreshadows the same type of directorial overkill that tends to mar most musical presentations today. Finally, I can't close on this without a giggle at the expense of those filler tunes used to pad out the NBC presentation. Remember? Here comes those quadruple images again as Elvis croons some of the better tunes from Blue Hawaii, but with distracting island images (a couple walking along the beach, bikini-clad girl by waterfall, etc.) that would have been put to better utilization in wee hours public service commercials.
Speaking of those bonus performances, a much better way to view them is via the Complete Post Concert Recording Session, which presents all five songs Elvis laid down with the band just a few hours after the satellite broadcast had ended and the audience had filed out. Filmed from two different angles against a generic background-tight facial shot, full body image-which are combined split screen-style, an obviously tired but still vocally awake Presley gives lovely readings of Ku-U-I-Po, Hawaiian Wedding Song, Gordon Lightfoot's , Early Morning Rain, No More (omitted from the American broadcast) and a beautifully tender one-take rendition of Blue Hawaii. Although there's not much chatter as Elvis' rather business-like demeanor suggests he wants to get the session over with to get some rest, there are a couple of excellent examples of his underrated sense of humor and musical perfectionist streak that never failed him during important performances such as this.
The Raw footage shot for the opening of the special shows all the various goings on as a surprisingly small but spirited crowd awaits the King's arrival by helicopter. This part of the archival video gives you a rare glimpse of Presley's legendary manager Colonel Tom Parker doing his carnival barker thing along with quick peeks at faces longtime fans will recognize (Charlie Hodge, Red and Sonny West, Dave Hebler, and Jerry Schilling).
Winding up the package is a nicely designed companion booklet with rare photos and an excellent essay from one of rock journalism's best writers, Dave Marsh.
Extras Grade: A
In a memorable line from I'll Remember You, Elvis sings 'I'll return to stay' to his beloved. Although its not in the living, breathing way most of us would prefer, Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii skilfully preserves one of the legendary performer's last triumphs forever.
Director: Marty Pasetta, Gary Hovey, Todd Morgan
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 04h:22m:00s
Release Date: June 22, 2004
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