Many fellow Elvis fans seem to have tired of all of the recent comparisons with Michael Jackson. However, they should take notice of one Michael Jackson project. Filmed just days before Jackson’s death in June, This Is It opens in theaters and IMAX later this month.
Assembled from over a hundred hours of footage, the documentary captures rehearsals and other behind-the-scenes moments for Jackson’s concert engagement that ultimately was not to be. If This Is It turns out to be a big success, Jackson’s fans can expect to see even more of that footage in sequels or at least in an expanded version on Blu-ray with lots of bonus material.
Why should we Elvis fans care about this? Success for This Is It may well lead someone at Warner Home Video to finally wake up and remember that they are sitting on dozens of hours of valuable behind-the-scenes, rehearsal, and concert footage of another singer known as “The King.”
In 1970, MGM’s cameras filmed several rehearsals and concerts for his Elvis Summer Festival engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Released in November of that year, the resulting Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary was grand and captured Elvis in his prime–but left dozens of hours on the cutting room floor.
In 1972, MGM’s cameras rolled again, this time for Elvis On Tour, capturing rehearsals, behind-the-scenes, and concerts in March and April. The film went on to win a Golden Globe, the only Elvis movie so honored. Again, dozens of hours of footage were filmed but not used.
Since that time, we have seen a bit of these outtakes. In 1992, Warner released Elvis: The Lost Performances, an incredible one-hour VHS video that included outtakes from both films. In 2001, Warner released a new edit of That’s The Way It Is, containing so many outtakes and changes as to actually be a different film than the original. Though both were compelling, these projects were just the tip of the Elvis documentary iceberg.
Though both versions of That’s The Way It Is are available, Elvis On Tour and The Lost Performances never received DVD releases. Maybe we are unable to go back in time just yet, but Elvis fans should at least be able to experience these historic films and outtakes.
First off, the original versions of Elvis: That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour should be fully restored in high definition and digital sound and released on Blu-ray (as well as DVD for those fans who have not yet upgraded), with top-notch bonus features.
Why stop there? Next, Warner should choose whichever That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour concerts are most complete (not all were filmed in their entirety) and release them as separate, all-new concert experiences. Do not tag them as Elvis On Tour or That’s The Way It Is re-edits, just make completely new projects and leave the original documentaries to stand alone as accounts from the time. Most important, do not over-edit these concerts. Use Elvis’ original setlist and flow as much as possible.
Imagine if a That’s The Way It Is concert was given a full-fledged theatrical release, with an Elvis marketing blitz unheard of since his death. Just think about watching one of the That’s The Way It Is concerts on an IMAX screen.
Sure, theatrical and IMAX releases are long-stretches, but I think at least Blu-ray releases for Elvis: That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour are real possibilities if Michael Jackson’s This Is It takes off.
A fan can dream, can’t he?