Elvis’ Dazzling Spectacle Hits The Major Notes: A High Five Movie Review

by Matthew Escosia
SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Austin Butler
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By: Jia Jarin

 

What happens when the music of a world-renowned singer meets the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby? A two-hour motion picture overflowing with vibrant storytelling.

Elvis (2022) is a musical drama about the life of Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock and Roll, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks.  Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, Elvis dives into Presley’s journey to stardom through the lenses of his borderline-manipulative manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Music biopics have been on the rise these past years, putting the spotlight on popular musicians to the big screens such as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Rocketman (2019), and Respect (2021). Elvis offered an original take in exploring the world of America’s pop culture icon— leaving its viewers in awe with its dazzling spectacle.

This is our High Five movie review which lists all the details on how Elvis wooed rock music fans, critics, and audiences.

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Austin Butler

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Austin Butler’s Exhilarating Performance

One of the film’s delightful surprises is Austin Butler’s notable portrayal of Elvis Presley himself. When he was announced to play Presley, people have been doubtful that Butler would be the man for the job due to his previous heartthrob roles in Disney and teen television series Carrie Diaries. Good thing, he was able to shake up the audiences with a radical performance.

Bringing the iconic singer to the big screen is no easy feat. Austin was able to immerse himself into the role with style, especially during the scenes with the iconic pelvic thrusting and sweat-drenching performances on stage. From nailing the small mannerisms and slurry voice to channeling the inner vulnerabilities of Presley and his magnetic presence, Austin offers an intensely energizing and rich embodiment of Elvis Presley.

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Austin Butler

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Rousing Movie Soundtrack

With over 20 years in the entertainment industry, Elvis Presley had over 700 songs and the film creatively chose musical numbers that will make the story more compelling. By including Elvis’ iconic vocals in the latter parts of the film and occasionally blending it with Austin’s voice, Baz Luhrmann strikes a balance between the heart of the original singer and his own interpretation of such well-known songs.

The soundtrack will make you feel nostalgic and reminiscent even if the movie added its modern twists. Aside from the dynamic mashups during Elvis’ concert montage which would also make you feel as breathless as the singer after his performances, sentimental soundtracks were strategically added in scenes when Presley’s life starts to fall apart. For instance, although the song “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is known to be a romantic serenade, the tune becomes slightly eerie when Presley faces heartbreak and exhaustion from performing. “Trouble” was also altered when Presley struggled with his manager, the police, and the press. Throughout the film, the music becomes the backbone in elevating the narrative and bringing its viewers to Presley’s emotional journey.

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Austin Butler

AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Costume and Production Design

To take its audiences back in time through the 42 years of Presley’s life, production designers Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy balanced the soul of the 50s to 70s era with modern subtleties. With a focus on blending historic references, the film beautifully captured Graceland, Beale Street, and The International Hotel and made it rain with visual candy. Oscar-winner Catherine Martin completed this world with the recreation of Elvis Presley’s iconic, vibrant jumpsuits. Through a collaboration with Kim and Butch Polston of B&K Enterprises and with the guidance of Bill Belew (Elvis’ longtime costume designer), Catherine Martin was able to faithfully remake Presley’s array of clothing emblems (including the intricate chain-stitch embroidery of Presley’s tops).

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Baz luhrmann

Director/writer/producer BAZ LUHRMANN, OLIVIA DEJONGE and AUSTIN BUTLER on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Eccentric Storytelling

Baz Luhrmann is known for his outlandish, all-or-nothing style of directing, and this was greatly reflected in the film. Aside from how the narrative was centered on Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, Luhrmann delivered an American fairytale with flashing cinematography, fast-paced split-screen imagery, and a spotlight on the artistic aspects of Presley’s life. Although the audience could only know Elvis Presley on the surface, the direction of the biopic leaves you with a detached feeling of his off-stage life as there was more focus on how he became a symbol of pop culture— a parallel to the realities of a public figure. Nevertheless, Baz Luhrmann still stayed true to Presley’s decadent career by including real-life footage throughout the film, especially his concerts.

The distinct palettes and camera lenses also allowed the audience to immerse themselves into the different eras of Presley’s life. For instance, during the beginning and early stages of his career, the scenes had a softer color palette with tints of light blues and pinks. As he rises to fame, scenes slowly become more and more saturated with lens flares. Yellow glows also subtly fill the big screen whenever Presley feels that sense of fulfillment for his performances, symbolizing hope and passion for his craft.

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Shonka Dukureh

SHONKA DUKUREH as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

Unfiltered Social Issues

Behind Presley’s legendary music is the evolving cultural and political landscape in America. One of the film’s highlights is how it captured the impacts of these issues on Presley’s works— showing racial segregation, protests, the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though the movie is a fever dream, it did not shy away from bringing up the overwhelming feeling for Presley to continue with his entertainment career and the pressure to use his influence in speaking up about things that matter.

Moreover, Elvis faithfully depicted Presley’s respect for African-Americans and their music which heavily influenced his songs. This was displayed through his interactions with church choirs, black nightclubs, a young B.B. King (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.),  and his admiration for African-American leaders.

SEA Wave - Elvis Movie 2022 Tom Hanks

(L-r) TOM HANKS as Colonel Tom Parker and AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo from Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Verdict

Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of Elvis Presley’s life was an ode to the bittersweet American dream and its true costs: loss of innocence, addiction, and abuse from those in control. As Austin Butler says in the film, “when things are too dangerous to say, sing”. Despite its minor flaws, Elvis is a tremendous triumph that hit the right notes: overcoming the challenge of creating something grand and impactful based on a highly-acclaimed singer’s 20-year career through its cast, visuals, and songs.

 

With this, Elvis receives 3.5 out of 5 waves.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Elvis is now showing in cinemas. 

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