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Steve Binder
Elvis Presley
Writing Credits:
Chris Bearde, Allan Blye

When in June 1968 Elvis Presley made a television special to be aired in December of the same year, he accomplished two things. He saved his career, and he made the best music of his life. Wearing a black leather suit as if he were born in it—Elvis sang his old songs, but they did not sound old. He invested them with so much emotion—emotions his original recordings of, say, "Blue Suede Shoes," "Tryin’ to Get to You," "One Night," "Blue Christmas," or "Can’t Help Falling in Love" did not contain—that each became a thing in itself. Suddenly these were less songs than events—where anything could happen, where everything did. The 3 discs that make up this Deluxe Edition are a treasure chest of that moment: the special itself, as it aired on December 3, 1968; the two complete "Sit Down" shows, the rough, improvised, altogether explosive attacks on the likes of "One Night," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and "Blue Christmas," with the audience so close Elvis could touch the people in it, and did; the two "Arena Shows," Elvis appearing on his own, again before audiences, with a big band and chorus off stage; and three-and-a-half hours of bonus material, alternate stagings of the skits and dramatized musical numbers from the show— some of them a lot hotter than anything that made it to the screen.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 57 min.
Price: $49.98
Release Date: 6/22/2004

Disc One
• Black Leather Sit-Down Show #1
• Black Leather Sit-Down Show #2
Disc Two
• Black Leather Stand-Up Show #1
• Black Leather Stand-Up Show #2
• “Trouble”/”Guitar Man” TV Show Opener: All Takes and Raw Components
• “If I Can Dream” TV Show Closer: All Takes
• “Huh-Huh-Huh” Promo
• Elvis Closing Credits Without Credits Roll
• “If I Can Dream” Special Music Video 2004
Disc Three
• Gospel Production Number: All Takes and Raw Components
• “Guitar Man” Production Number: All Takes and Raw Components


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Elvis: '68 Comeback Special (Deluxe Edition) (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 29, 2004)

After my screening of Elvis - That’s the Way It Is, I felt curious to check out more video footage of the King. Since my musical tastes run more toward acts from the Sixties and later, I never got terribly interested in Elvis’ work. Although I wasn’t wild about the presentation found in That’s the Way It Is - which tended toward self-parody - I saw enough energy in his performance to interest me in additional material.

Presley’s 1968 “comeback special” enjoys a reputation as solid Elvis, so I thought it would be a good place to start. Essentially, by the late Sixties, Presley had degenerated into musical irrelevance. After starring in a slew of forgettable movies, the musical innovations of the decade left him in the lurch.

Because of that, it was decided that he needed a refurbishing, and an NBC TV special was the chosen vehicle. Formally titled Elvis, this show combined slick production numbers that featured Presley and suitably “mod” dancers with more rootsy material; much of the program utilized what would later be known as the “unplugged” format in which Elvis and some musicians played largely non-electric versions of his songs.

It worked. Although Elvis never regained the preeminence he once enjoyed, his career nonetheless went back on the upswing. He followed the show with successful showroom engagements in Las Vegas - one of which was documented in That’s the Way It Is - and Elvis soon toured for the first time in more than a decade. No, it wasn’t the status he held in the Fifties, and things gradually got worse before his sad demise in 1977, but at least Elvis continued to make music until his death.

While I can’t claim that none of this would have happened without Elvis, the success of the special certainly paved the way for his reinvigoration. Due to its status as a classic, I was most eager to check out the program.

Did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no. Elvis is a show with a split personality. On one hand we find a slew of terrible production numbers. In these Elvis lip-synchs some not-great tunes and interacts with a slew of not-great dancers. All of these segments are simply atrocious. They’ve aged poorly, though I can’t imagine they seemed anything other than silly in 1968 either.

However, the “unplugged” moments are absolutely terrific. Backed by long-time - and legendary - bandmates such as guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D. J. Fontana, Elvis seems relaxed and strongly involved in the material. They perform on a small stage surrounded by fans who literally sit at their feet; it’s a very informal setting that adds to the natural tone of the segments.

Some of this part doesn’t work tremendously well, but that’s due to a few poor musical choices. The ballad “Memories” ends the unplugged bits on a sappy note, and apparently Elvis found it impossible to do a straight version of “Love Me Tender”; as occurred during That’s the Way It Is, he ruins the song with giggles and silly lyrical alterations.

Otherwise, however, the stripped-down performance was thrilling. Elvis sounds simply fantastic. His voice faltered frequently during That’s the Way It Is, but his singing remains strong and rich during all of Elvis. The band is beyond reproach, and they provide strong backing for the King. When one hears all of the fuss about Elvis’ work, this is the Presley they mean: electric, savage and totally in control.

As such, about half of Elvis: ’68 Comeback Special works like gangbusters. The production numbers are a different story, but I guess that’s why DVDs have chapter markings. Nonetheless, the “unplugged” material on this disc offered prime Elvis and definitely entertained me.

Note that this DVD presents a program that differs from the one found on prior Comeback releases. It shortens the show and omits a few musical numbers. From what I understand, the Comeback seen on this DVD represents the piece as originally broadcast; the previous DVD included a longer “director’s cut” of sorts.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus A+

Elvis: ’68 Comeback Special appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Taken from primo source materials, the show looked stunningly good given its age and origins.

Most of the image’s problems connected to sharpness. Wide shots tended to look moderately soft and indistinct. This seemed like a particular problem in the dance production numbers and their wider takes; the lack of definition also popped up in the other sequences when they went wide, but the concerns were less severe there. Nonetheless, most of the show looked nicely detailed and defined, so I thought the problems stayed acceptably minor.

No problems with jagged edges or shimmering cropped up, but some moderate edge enhancement seemed to interfere with the image on occasion. Again, the production numbers made this concern the most obvious, as haloes appeared noticeably in the wider shots. Source flaws seemed shockingly absent, as the image displayed virtually no problems with specks, artifacting, or other defects. A little video warping showed up on a couple of occasions - check out the start of “If I Can Dream” to see this - but that wasn’t much of a distraction.

Colors stood out as another revelation. Occasionally I thought the reds bled a bit, especially when we saw colored lighting. Nonetheless, the tones remained rock solid much of the time, and they usually leapt off the screen. The colors were very deep and rich throughout the show. Blacks also looked intense and firm, and low-light shots were distinctive and tight. Based on what I expected of Comeback, this transfer would have been an “A”. Since I try to be more objective and issue grades that connect to period-based expectations, I went with a “B+”, but that remained a fine grade for this very string visual presentation.

Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of the ’68 Christmas Special surpassed my expectations, though not as swimmingly. The soundfield broadened the music across the front, but not in a terribly distinctive manner. Stereo imaging seemed passable and broadened the instrumentation reasonably well, but vocals occasionally fought to determine appropriate localization, as they didn’t always come right from the center as expected. Still, the imaging worked acceptably well. Don’t expect much of the surrounds, as they acted as reinforcement and nothing more. That was fine with me.

Audio quality varied dependent on the setting. The sit-down sessions fared the worst, while the stand-up performance worked best. The production numbers fell between the two. The main problem with the sit-down shows stemmed from some crackling as well as a general thinness of tone. Bass response seemed most negligible for those; some low-end still appeared, but the audio for the sit-down shows still came across as a bit tinny. Distortion also crept in around the edges.

As for the stand-up performances, they offered the best range of the bunch. Low-end was nicely firm, and they showed good range and clarity. Some drop-outs and distortion appeared at the end of “Jailhouse Rock”, but otherwise these shows were clear and well-defined.

Like I mentioned, the production numbers mixed the qualities of these two. They lacked the distortion that occasionally cropped up during the sit-down sets, but they also failed to demonstrate the same level of clarity and range of the stand-up shows.

Overall, this meant the audio came across as generally satisfying but a bit flawed. For a TV show of the era, I’d consider the sound to be excellent, but I couldn’t compare it solely to other programs of that nature. Since they recorded the shows professionally, we should hold them more to that standard, which was why they mustered only a “B”. The audio seemed positive overall and clearly portrayed these shows better than ever on video of any format, but they weren’t quite good enough to go above a “B”.

How did all of this compare to the prior DVD with the comeback show on it? Put simply, the new DVD absolutely blew away the old one. That disc offered dreadful picture and sound that seemed radically improved on the new one. Really, there’s no comparison; it’s a night and day difference.

The substantial improvements in picture and sound would be enough for most folks, but this set also packs a veritable Kingucopia of supplements. Spread across three DVDs, the package includes tons of footage connected to the Comeback Special.

(Note that you’ll play a guessing game as to which disc is which. None of them have numbers, so I had to use trial and error to figure out which one was DVD One, etc. Why didn’t they put numbers on the discs? I have no idea, but it makes things more confusing for fans who want to head straight to a particular feature. Anyway, DVD One has a black face, while DVD Two is white and DVD Three is red.)

In addition to the main broadcast, DVD One includes Black Leather Sit-Down Shows #1 and #2. The former runs 52 minutes and 10 seconds, while the latter fills 51 minutes and 30 seconds. Both shows present fairly similar set lists, though the order in which the songs appear differs. “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Tiger Man” only pop up for show 2, while performance one includes reprises of “Baby, What You Want Me to Do” and “One Night”.

All of the plaudits I mentioned during the body of the review continue to apply to this area. Actually, the material seems superior here, as we get to watch the performances in their entirety without the less enjoyable footage to interrupt it. It’s great fun to see the shows in their complete form and watch as the concerts develop. This footage is absolute gold. (In a cool touch, Show #2 starts with some moments from the introducer, and that lets us see candid moments with the band as they wait for Elvis to appear.)

As we go to DVD Two, the big attraction comes from Black Leather Stand-Up Shows #1 and #2. The first one lasts 30 minutes, 46 seconds, and the second takes 34 minutes, 25 seconds. Both offer uncut takes on their shows, which means we find more candid elements and goofs. That makes them very fun “fly on the wall” looks at the shows. We even get a straight version of “Love Me Tender” in Show #1, though Elvis seems tentative as he goes through the tune. More formal than the Sit-Down shows, these aren’t quite as entertaining, but they’re almost as good and they provide an excellent extra.

Next we find the “Trouble”/”Guitar Man” TV Show Opener. This takes 26 minutes, 25 seconds as it presents exactly what the title describes. This presents all of the basic footage used for this number, and in a variety of incarnations. We see lots and lots of Elvis as he lip-synchs for the sequence in question. It’s somewhat dry after the fun of the live concerts, but it’s cool to see.

More of the same comes from ”If I Can Dream” TV Show Closer, which lasts 11 minutes and nine seconds. “Dream” is one of the program’s weaker numbers, so it’s not such fun to watch. Nonetheless, I appreciate the inclusion of all this cut footage.

Oddly titled but interesting, the “Huh-Huh-Huh” Promo goes for only 90 seconds. Here we see Elvis repeatedly go “huh-huh-huh”, the vocalization does as part of “All Shook Up”. It’s unclear what they intended to do with this footage but entertaining to see anyway.

With a self-explanatory title, Elvis Closing Credits Without Credits Roll takes 93 seconds. It shows the program’s ending sans text, which makes it moderately cool. Lastly, the “If I Can Dream” Special Music Video 2004 fills three minutes, 10 seconds as it presents a hybrid performance. It intercuts shots of white-suit Elvis with black leather Elvis as both sing “Dream”. It’s not terribly interesting.

Finally, we head to DVD Three, where two long components finish off the package. Gospel Production Number: All Takes and Raw Components runs for 55 minutes and gives us more uncut material. This stuff will clearly appeal most to Elvis completists, but it’s still cool to see the piece’s evolution and different looks at its elements.

Similarly, the “Guitar Man” Production Number: All Takes and Raw Components gives us the same form of material. This section fills two hours, six minutes and 15 seconds. The moments between takes prove the most interesting, as we hear Elvis and other discuss the material and also occasionally see some vamping from the King. Admittedly, not many folks will have the patience to sit through all the footage, but there’s some gold here, and the whole package adds up to a great look behind the scenes.

For folks too young to have seen Elvis Presley in his prime, the ’68 Comeback Special offers a terrific reminder of what made him the King. The special suffers from some silly production numbers, but we get enough of Elvis at his raw best to make this a strong show. The DVD presents almost shockingly good visuals along with fairly good audio and an amazing roster of extras. Actually, with the set of supplements here, there’s no reason to ever watch the Special itself – you can check out the outstanding live performances and forget about the cheesy parts entirely.

Without question, Elvis fans should glom onto this excellent set. That goes equally strongly for those who own the old DVD and those who don’t. The new one absolutely blows away the prior disc in terms of picture and sound quality, and the stunning package of extras makes it a must have program. With a list price of nearly $50, the ’68 Comeback Special doesn’t come cheaply, but for a set this fine, it’s worth every penny.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5757 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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