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Cherry Pop

'Elvis! Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection'
(Elvis Presley, et al / 8-Disc DVD / PG / 2007 / Paramount Home Video)

Overview: 'Elvis! Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection' is a wonderful brand new 8-disc box-set that features: Blue Hawaii (1961, Panavision, with Angela Lansbury, Joan Blackman, Roland Winters); Easy Come, Easy Go (1967, with Dodie Marshall, Pat Priest, Pat Harrington and Elsa Lanchester); Fun In Acapulco (1963, with Ursula Andress, Alejandro Rey and Paul Lukas); G.I. Blues (1960, with Juliet Prowse and Robert Ivers); Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962, with Stella Stevens, Jeremy Slate and Benson Fong); King Creole (1958, VistaVision, with Carolyn Jones, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger, Walter Matthau, Paul Stewart and Vic Morrow); Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966, with Susanna Leigh and Julie Parrish); Roustabout (1964, Techniscope, with Barbara Stanwyck, Leif Erikson, Joan Freeman, Sue Ane Langdon, Rachel Welsh and Teri Garr).

DVD Verdict: When Elvis Presley began doing feature films, they were big productions and the given studio joined RCA Records in backing the project to full A-level status. Eventually, Col. Tom Parker decided mass production and formula were the way to go and the many films that followed the initial ones almost totally killed The King’s career. The good period of formula (beginning with G.I. Blues) peaked after a rough road in 1964 with Viva Las Vegas and just about all the films after (except the likes of Speedway) were contrived and increasingly plastic, or the opposite of what made Elvis a star to begin with.

Paramount’s 'Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection' repackages eight of those films (or a quarter of all dramatic films Elvis made) from older DVD releases for one last run in the format.

You can see the films above and they are all just about the same. The formula roughly translates to Elvis is a good guy looking for fun and romance, can sing and faces some challenges to finding success and will spend the film trying to overcome them. In between the drama, he will sing enough songs to fill up a vinyl 33 1/3 record. This became known as “The Elvis Musical” though it was not really a Musical and if anything, further marked the decline of that genre. The early films could, when he did sing many songs, be thought of as backstage Musicals like King Creole, but the rest were just precursors to the Music Video with fluff in between.

King Creole is the A-level exception here for several reasons. Besides the cast and money on the screen, this is a very well written film, Elvis is in peak form above going through the motions in later films and this is often forgotten as the first major A-level Rock Music film when so many performance films were low-budget compilations that were sometimes lucky enough to secure some or many name acts of the time. A Hard Day’s Night and Woodstock have obscured King Creole more than they should have, but King Creole is just as good and important. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed it and it is a gem long overdue for rediscovery and revisionist thinking.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 to 1.85 X 1 image on most of the films are a little softer than you might want and these are old DVD transfers. The two scope films (Blue Hawaii and Roustabout) are anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 and only Roustabout suffers the most detail degradation since it is in the weakest of frames. King Creole is the only large-frame format film in the bunch and only one in black and white. The result is the best detail and depth of the bunch. The rest are all film originally released in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor and almost all those transfers (except Paradise, which has poor color and is easily the one bad print in the bunch, with even more issues than Roustabout) have at least some fine moments of that color in their transfers here, often saving the disc from looking worse.

All being older DVDs, the detail and depth can be a problem. However, these are still watchable and inevitably will be out in the HD formats. All are also originally monophonic releases, here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and in Dolby 5.1 upgrades that all need much more work. It seems stereo copies of the Elvis songs are dropped into the 5.1 mixes. Some of the films have trailers as their only extras, while others have no extras at all. Let’s hope that is corrected for the HD versions.