Wow! What can I say? Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the life of Elvis Presley is nothing short of spectacular. We’ve come to expect opulence, decadence and a veritable visual feast from Luhrmann and his set-designer wife and business partner Catherine Martin. The Oscar-winning movies Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Gatsby all bear the signature of the voluptuously sparkly and excessively material seduce with extraordinarily rich colors, fabrics and textures.
In this regard, Elvis does not disappoint. The costumes and set designs are pitch perfect and, as it has been noted in many interviews and reviews, actor Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis is so on-point that even Elvis’ late daughter Lisa Marie Presley (who died of an overdose recently) gave it her seal of approval. Butler’s work is like channeling. He is nominated for Best Actor and may indeed claim the 2023 Oscar.
Without giving away the plot, Luhrmann (who co-wrote and directed) chose a narrative throughline that borders the fringe of a biopic. In other words, he puts Elvis in the passive position., choosing instead to tell the story through the unreliable point-of-view (POV) of Elvis’ disgraced promoter Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks.
This is a daring and unique perspective because it effectively tells the story through the eyes of the con man who helped make Elvis famous but participated in his downfall. The film succeeds on so many levels and has a worldwide Box Office of 287.3 million. So it worked, kind of.
I, personally, would’ve rather not seen Elvis through Parker’s cold, jaded POV. But again, this is a creative choice and in many ways it is refreshing after so many stale rehashes of the life of the King of Rock’n Roll. Luhrmann is on record saying he wasn’t really after a biography per se but more of a birds-eye-view of Elvis in the larger context of music history. In that I believe Luhrmann, et al, have succeeded wildly.
There is a saying in the music industry that the hardest thing you can do is a rendition of a classic. This is doubly true of retelling the life of a legendary musical figure. To my mind, the script (my reading copy is marked Final Shooting Draft but is obviously not that) storyline is far too circuitous, even more than what we see on film.
In the movie business there is another saying: less is more. As fabulous as Elvis is, it could’ve been so much more with less micromanaging of the plot and more direct emotional access to the King himself.
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