"It's been a long time, baby!" - Elvis Presley
Stars: Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana, Charlie Hodge, Alan Fortas
Other Stars: Lance LeGault, The Blossoms (Darlene Love, Jean King, Fanita James), Susan Henning, Tanya Lamani, Barbara Burgess, Buddy Arett
Director: Steve Binder, Gary Hovey, Todd Morgan
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (risqué, situations, mild language)
Run Time: 07h:00m:00s
Release Date: June 22, 2004
Grade Image Transfer
Grade Audio Transfer
A+ A+ A A- A+ 0
"What am I gonna do if they don't like me? What if they laugh at me?" - Elvis Presley
It's the late afternoon of June 27th, 1968; the clock is a few minutes shy of 6pm. Backstage at NBC Studios, the air is fraught with tension as 33-year-old rock legend Elvis Aron Presley sits in his dressing room sweating profusely—and it's not entirely caused by the custom-made leather outfit he's wearing.
A few feet away, a studio audience anxiously awaits what will be Elvis' first live performance in over seven years, a virtual lifetime in the record business. While away making a series of fun but mostly creatively unchallenging Hollywood musicals, the rock-and-roll landscape has done a complete 180, thanks to the likes of The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles, artists who weren't afraid to embrace change and expand upon their early material that caught the public's attention. During an era of classic albums including Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde, the man that influenced a generation of musicians was now churning out an average of three film soundtracks a year, littered with inane titles such as There's No Room to Rumba in a Sports Car and Yoga Is as Yoga Does. In other words, the pop cultural force known as The King had all but relinquished his throne.
With a strong possibility of cancellation looming, director Steve Binder rushes to Presley's aide. Over the course of months past, the legendary musical program helmer (The T.A.M.I. Show, Hullabaloo) has seen a different side of the performer during preparations for his debut television special: a driven, passionate artist anxious to emerge from a comfort cocoon and recapture his artistic integrity left behind a half-decade earlier. However, at this moment the panic stricken Presley looks nothing like the force of creative energy that has ignited the last few weeks of pre-production. Despite encouragement from the director and Memphis Mafia entourage member Joe Esposito, Elvis remains a nervous wreck. Urging him not to disappoint his fans, Binder promises to throw the footage out if the two scheduled performances turn out to be duds.
Originally conceived as a generic Christmas variety hour filled with fake snow, gift-hungry kids, and holiday standards until Presley took creative rein, the end result is a perfect blending of white hot performances and exciting production numbers that re-cast his classic hits in a modern, vibrant light. Looking impossibly sexy with an urgent raw edge to his voice only hinted at during his formative years, the boy who dared to rock during the dawn of that genre has matured into a man in complete control once more.
Among the high points of these classic 50 minutes: a thrilling sequence commencing with a triple-threat medley of Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, and All Shook Up paves the way for a blazing Jailhouse Rock (Elvis barely suppresses a laugh while maneuvering the tongue twister lyrics) and beautifully re-arranged versions of Can't Help Falling in Love and Love Me Tender, which topple their original 45rpm incarnations; a rousing gospel sequence that pays homage to Presley's musical roots, including a moving Where Could I Go But to The Lord and a furious tent-revival take on the once obscure Leiber-Stoller composition, Saved; down and dirty jams on Baby, What You Want Me to Do? (featuring Presley's gritty, underrated rhythm/lead combination riffing) and an earth-shattering One Night.
Although the revitalized classics form the heart of the show, its unquestionable highlight comes courtesy of a new song written by composer W. Earl Brown. Inspired by an emotional conversation Binder had with Presley in the wake of Robert Kennedy's assassination, the director commissioned Brown to come up with a reflective, soulful composition that not only crystallized the feelings of its singer, but also incorporated the mood of a country in the midst of one of its most turbulent years in history. Moved to such a point that the performer asked the songwriter to play his new pride-and-joy numerous times prior to the recording session, If I Can Dream became an unforgettable coda for the special, as Presley's passionate plea for "peace and understanding" resulted in what may very well be his greatest vocal performance, and a song that remains just as relevant 36 summers later.
Dual triumphs in both the record charts and Nielsen ratings aside, the Peabody Award-winning special only grew in stature over the years, particularly after Presley's passing. Yet, there was more where this superlative material came from. Disappointed at only getting stingy, "a cut here and there" compilation album treatment of the unreleased goods from RCA, adamant fans turned to enterprising bootleg album/video specialists to fill the void. Mostly complete but oftentimes lacking in quality (multi-generational sources; lack of proper re-mastering), many longtime faithful wondered if this legendary treasure chest of musical history would ever have an official release.
Well, my scarf-collecting, teddy-bear-loving contingent—this long overdue edition is finally here.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratio yes
Image Transfer Review: Released in the early days of DVD through Warner Bros. and Lightyear Entertainment, '68 Comeback looked only marginally better than its VHS cousin, to be honest. Although preserved in the best conditions possible by the singer's estate, the age of the two-inch master tapes were getting more noticeable by the year, particularly the faded colors and ghosting-type artifacts. Not anymore, folks.
In a mastering job comparable to Warner Bros.' recent treatment of screen classics The Adventures of Robin Hood and others, Elvis Presley Enterprises in collaboration with Complete Post has given this material an extreme makeover. Flaws that have become second nature in past video releases are delightfully eliminated; colors are stunningly accurate (especially skintones and the shine of the legendary Bill Belew leather suit) and grain has been mostly exorcised without compromising quality. Audience members standout like never before along with tiny details like fingerprints on Scotty Moore's guitar (which Elvis borrows during the informal jam sessions) and beads of perspiration that cover the superstar's face come across with surprising clarity. Though very minor detriments remain, they are not enough to mar one of the finest video refurbishings of '60s-era television material to surface to date, courtesy of producer-editor Ray Miller; hats off to him and his staff for a job well done.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Language Remote Access
DS 2.0 English yes
5.1 English yes
Audio Transfer Review: Despite its monoaural source, just as much attention was devoted to the "Deluxe Edition" audio with awe-inspiring results. Presented in both 2.0 and 5.1 versions, the former will likely find favor among staunch purists that prefer a presentation that harkens close to its original 1968 audio state with very little enhancement. For those who choose to listen with an open mind, the Dolby Digital re-mix is surprisingly effective by adding a nice expansiveness to the rears during production numbers and ar