Review - Elvis The Early Years Mini Series

By: Scott Jenkins
Source: Elvis Australia
October 28, 2005

One of the great things about reviewing television programs as part of my job is getting to see the shows before they go to air, often in a more intact state than when they finally are telecast. So, I should tell you that this review is based on the full version of Elvis The Early Years. By the time Channel Ten airs it in Australia on November 6, over 30 minutes will have been cut. And, to be honest, that can only be a good thing: the less that is seen of this production, the better as far as I'm concerned. This is purely my own opinion, of course, you'll make up your own minds once it airs.

This is another Graceland-approved (and therefore homogenised) dramatisation of Elvis Presley's early life, from his awkward teen years to the famed 1968 comeback. I'd like to be able to say it's as good as 1979's 'Elvis' starring Kurt Russell, but unfortunately it isn't. Obviously, it's difficult to condense such a fascinating story as The King's into a couple of hours, but the overall result ends up as superficial. To quote the man himself: "It starts off slow, then tapers off to nothin' man ..." 

There has been much media ballyhoo (especially on 'Entertainment Tonight') about Jonathan Rhys Meyers' "uncanny" ability to "channel" Elvis. While there is indeed some physical resemblance to Elvis, Meyers' choice of sneering on the right - Elvis sneered on the left as you all know - is oddly disturbing. That, coupled with a bad vocal imitation, makes him seem like a tragic Elvis impersonator (as if there was any other kind). Oh, and he mispronounces 'Presley' with the 'z' sound, not the correct 'ss' sound. Am I being too picky? No, not if I want to see the King's life done right and done well, I'm not.

The show does start off very promisingly. Camryn Manheim as Gladys is just terrific, and she plays well off Meyers. Robert Patrick captures Vernon physically, but there's little hint of a Southern accent. Elvis' early years are well developed, and there's location footage of Graceland and - if I'm not mistaken - the Presley's actual Audobon Drive home. Much like Elvis' career, the show loses its way after Elvis gets drafted into the Army. Upon his discharge, the Elvis shown here becomes mostly arrogant and detached. Which was only partly true in real life. The Elvis here is quite dislikeable overall. Priscilla - of course - comes across as totally naive. We've heard it all before, sister.

It's the little things that rankle most. For instance, during a scene set in the Colonel's office during the making of 'Flaming Star', in the background you'll see a copy of the 'Flaming Star' album. That's right, the one that came out years later with the 'Stay Away Joe' pic on the cover. Poor research.

If you listen carefully, there are a couple of digs at certain people in the Elvis world (including that sycophant Charlie Hodge, so it can't be all bad). Meyers makes a ham-fisted attempt at the Presley persona. And the leather-clad concert recreations are just plain embarrassing to watch. You will cringe as he says, "There's somethin' wrong with mah lip, man-"

Randy Quaid - perhaps the most surprising choice to play Colonel Parker - does a very good job in bringing the old bastard's unctuous qualities to life. But Rose McGowan as Ann-Marget? Forget about it. This show could be subtitled Priscilla's Revenge, as Miss AM is portrayed as an idiot.

On the plus side though, there is plenty of Elvis' original early music on the soundtrack. When I first heard about this project, I was annoyed they weren't going to show Elvis' later years. But now I'm glad they didn't. I cannot even imagine the horror of Meyers doing the Vegas jumpsuit years and gaining weight.

Cast your mind back to 1990. Remember the 'Elvis' program with Michael St Gerard? Much better than this latest piffle. As I said, perhaps I'm being too harsh. But I'm sorry to say, the whole thing was a wasted effort. Sadly, 'Elvis The Early Years' offers nothing new or interesting. You'd do better to watch 'Jailhouse Rock' - or even 'Clambake' - again.

Elvis The Early Years Mini-series will screen in Australia on Channel 10 on Sunday November 6th at 8.30pm (Following Australian Idol Elvis Night at 7.30pm)

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