VIVA LAS VEGAS - Blu-ray review

...this sets a benchmark for catalog titles from today on.


It has been a long and strange trip for Elvis Presley's career. In both life and death, the legendary and arguably greatest male singer has had his ups and downs. The film "Viva Las Vegas" and its accompanying title song is perhaps the epitome of his rollercoaster ride. Early Elvis was a heartthrob and a sex symbol. Elvis would soon become a caricature of himself with his rhinestone studded outfits, bellbottoms and inflated size as he performed in Las Vegas. His film career started off as a very successful venture, but started to downswing with the 1964 film "Viva Las Vegas." Looking back on the King's life, it seemed like Vegas was a curse for the singer/actor. He may have died in Graceland, but it could be argued that his career died in Vegas. In postmortem, Elvis found success with "A Little Less Conversation" and two albums containing his number one hits and other successful songs. The third album in the series, "Viva Las Vegas" has hardly been noticed. To make matters worse for fans and Elvis' career, the song "Viva Las Vegas" is now parodied as "Viva Viagra" on radio and television commercials. Sad.

Elvis died when I was only about four years old. I don't remember anything about the singer, but my oldest sister is a tremendous fan of the King. I grew up listening to everything Elvis and watching his films every time they were on television. Today, my Elvis Christmas compilation CD is my favorite holiday record. I enjoy his music and although I would never consider myself a big fan of the late musician, I appreciate his music and his talent. Oddly enough, on the weekend that two screeners of Elvis Presley on Blu-ray arrived, my sister was up visiting for the weekend. It almost feels ironic. Growing up listening to old Elvis records and watching his movies on television via a rabbit ears antenna made receiving these high tech versions of "Viva Las Vegas" and "Jailhouse Rock" feel nostalgic. I had anticipation to see how the sights and sounds of these films would hold up under six channel Dolby TrueHD surround sound and 1080 resolution. For my sister, sitting down to enjoy these two films had nothing to do with technology, but another chance to enjoy her favorite musician.

"Viva Las Vegas" may have been one of the last notable Elvis Presley movies, but it is among his finest films. The film succeeds because of the well documented chemistry that existed between co-stars Presley and Ann-Margret. Stories of a heated romance off-screen between the two have long existed and watching the film certainly shows there was a little more between the singers on-screen than screenplay lines. In addition to the romantic expressions shared between the leads, Presley and Cesare Danova have a nice chemistry between then as two alpha males trying to woo the gorgeous Ann-Margret in the film. "Viva Las Vegas" finds Presley in a playful state with fine examples of the singer's physical comedy capabilities. The waiter scene where Presley's character tends to a dinner date between Danova and Ann-Margret is absolutely hilarious and perhaps the funniest Elvis Presley sequence ever captured by camera.

Although mostly remembered as a romantic comedy, "Viva Las Vegas" is a romantic musical comedy musical. It features musical numbers inadvertently thrown into the plot that would not make sense in a straight romantic comedy or drama. From the moment when Elvis finds a guitar and serenade's Ann-Margret poolside to the final scenes where they finally find love, "Viva Las Vegas" is peppered with song. Unlike the same day release of "Jailhouse Rock" which writes the music into the plot as part of the story, the music in "Viva Las Vegas" is solely intended to capitalize on the success of Presley's singing career and the billing of the time that Ann-Margret was the female Elvis. If there was any element of "Viva Las Vegas" that felt weak, it was the musical selections of the film. Aside from Elvis' one-take shot of him performing "Viva Las Vegas," the songs in the film are flat and not as energetic or catchy as what is typical of Presley. His take on the charged Ray Charles "What'd I Say" pales in comparison to Charles' version of the song. The songs are certainly better than many of the Elvis films that followed "Viva Las Vegas," but the film is, in my opinion, the beginning of the downward spiral for Elvis.

I enjoyed this classic little romantic comedy musical and it was wonderful to sit back and enjoy Elvis on Blu-ray. I'm not alone in my beliefs that this fifteenth film from Elvis Presley was perhaps his last great picture and afterwards the quality began to slip and the focus on his music began to diminish. The star's musical career had already started to wane, and "Viva Las Vegas" was the last great gasp of air for this incredibly talented entertainer. Presley, Ann-Margret and Danova are all perfectly cast in this film and their chemistry is strong and apparent. The writing is not incredible, but it has a campy and classic feel that works for the songs and the stars. For me, "Viva Las Vegas" is the apex of Elvis' career. It is a reminder of how great he was and a hint of the sorrowful slide that would eventually result in his death a few years later. There was a time when nobody was bigger than Elvis. He was still tremendously popular when "Viva Las Vegas" debuted and still capable of entertaining an audience and this is apparent in "Viva Las Vegas."

I'm going to come out and state immediately that "Viva Las Vegas" on Blu-ray looks absolutely stunning. I was simply blown away by the coloring of the neon signs of Las Vegas and the detail of this 1963 film. The 2.4:1 widescreen transfer is mastered at 1080p with the VC-1 codec and "Viva Las Vegas" is among the best catalog titles I have seen and aside from "The Searchers," is perhaps the finest title over a quarter of a century in age that has yet to be released on any of the high definition formats. As previously mentioned, my older sister was up for the weekend and enjoyed "Viva Las Vegas" with me. She had never witnessed high definition before and she was overly impressed with how crystal clear and colorful the film came across. Elvis, Ann-Margret and many of the cast and extras sported incredibly colorful colors. Las Vegas is the City of Lights. Between the colorful costumes and brightly lit city where nightlife never stops, "Viva Las Vegas" is a stunning example of just how wonderful a properly mastered film can look on Blu-ray.

I could find no flaws in either color reproduction, image clarity or the source materials used. Reds are historically a problematic color to reproduce and there are some incredibly rich reds contained in this film. When Elvis is first introduced on screen, he is wearing a bright red shirt. There is absolutely no color bleeding in the entire film. The neon lights are strong and show how perfectly saturated and contrasted the colors are. Whites are clean. Blacks are deep and dark. Fleshtones are warm and natural looking. The detail is incredibly deep, as individual leaves on shrubbery, clothing fabrics and other items are as strong as anything I've seen on high definition. Perhaps the only minor flaw in the transfer is the minor amount of edge enhancement that is apparent in a few brightly lit exterior sequences. The source materials show not a single speck of dirt, film grain or other flaw. Simply put, I was amazed at how great this film looked.

Another surprise was the inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack on the Blu-ray release of "Viva Las Vegas." The disc also contained a strong, yet not quite as impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. For purists, the original mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is also included. This three soundtrack offering shows how serious Warner Bros. was with the release of these classic Elvis films and this sets a benchmark for catalog titles from today on. The original mono track was clean and served as a perfect contrast to how a properly remastered 5.1 soundtrack can help a catalog title sound fresh on today's powerful home theater soundtracks that thrive on multi-channel surround tracks and clarity. The Dolby Digital soundtrack was also strong, but when compared with the TrueHD soundtrack, it definitely lacks the definition and clarity that is apparent with the TrueHD mix. All tracks are good, but the modern technology certainly wins out on this title.

With "Viva Las Vegas" being a musical, the strength of the music is very important. All of the songs included in the film sound clean and strong. From "He Loves Me" to "Viva Las Vegas," each song is clear in vocals and the various instruments can be picked out and enjoyed. Elvis and Ann-Margret both sound wonderful in their vocals and one could sit back and enjoy this Blu-ray just for the high quality reproductions of the film's original songs. The rear speakers are not used heavily throughout the film, but there are a number of ambient sounds present in the rears. When Ann-Margret is coming out of the pool after dumping Elvis into the water a scene earlier, noises of the children and the water can be heard in the rears. The original mono source forces much of the sounds in the fronts, but they do so with aplomb. Individual sounds are clear and nicely rendered. Vocals are strong and clean. One thing is for certain, the TrueHD soundtrack does not sound like it's beginnings are over forty years old. Very impressive.

For this newly released special edition of "Viva Las Vegas," a pair of very nice supplements have been added. The supplements appear on the HD-DVD and DVD releases as well. The Commentary by Steve Pond, Author of Elvis in Hollywood is a nice commentary track. Pond is a Elvis historian and points out many tidbits about the film, as well as notes on Elvis' history and the changing face of the entertainment industry around Elvis. He discusses the Beatles and their impact on Elvis' career and discusses the hesitations of Elvis' manager and some missteps in his career. This track was educational and informative. The Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas (20:34) featurette is new for this release. This looks at his career and how the city of Las Vegas was involved in various stages of his career. It discusses his involvement with Ann-Margret and his eventual return in 1969, where he was able to be back on top of the musical industry for a very short time. Elvis was booked by his manager Colonel Parker early in Elvis' career and he was not a big success at first. This rough stage in his career in Vegas was discussed heavily in this feature. The Theatrical Trailer is also included.

Closing Comments:
"Viva Las Vegas" and "Jailhouse Rock" provided a very nice evening of Elvis entertainment. These old films show the stages of Elvis in his career and some consider "Viva Las Vegas" the beginning of the end for the late and legendary performer. Vegas was often not friendly for Elvis Presley, but he did have some highlights during his life in Vegas. This film may be cheesy at times in its writing and its music, but it is fun. The chemistry between Elvis and his costar Ann-Margret is hugely apparent and the strongest thread that weaves this film. This is a lot of fun and a nice trip down memory lane with the King. The Blu-ray release handles this trip down memory lane with incredibly strong visuals and sounds. The transfer is amazing in its clarity, color and detail. The soundtrack is as strong as a soundtrack can be from an original mono source. The extras are not plentiful, but they are quality. Out of the two Elvis releases on Blu-ray, I would recommend this one as the one to show off what the technology can do for the King. They are both quality, but this one looks and sounds amazing. It also entertains.


Film Value