Released to theatres in May of 1964, just when U.S. Beatlemania was building up momentum, Viva Las Vegas starred a still young, slender, pre-comeback era Elvis Presley paired with the stunningly beautiful and talented Ann-Margret. Ann-Margret was fresh off her previous year's success in the hit film Bye Bye Birdie which, just as Viva Las Vegas, was also directed by George Sidney.
Full of lush cinematography that captures the Sin City and its natural surroundings in its heyday, Elvis and Ann-Margret in their youthful prime – sexual chemistry dripping off the screen – as well as the prerequisite Elvis musical numbers, Viva Las Vegas has gone on to become one of the most popular movies Elvis Presley ever made. No doubt its popularity over the years has been aided by Elvis' seemingly unbreakable ties to the city of Las Vegas, and the subsequent stories of the real life relationship between Elvis and Ann-Margret.
Bright light city gonna set my soul on fire
All of that aside, the movie is still a fun, and easy 85 minutes of mindless musical entertainment. There's not much of a plot – something about a Grand Prix race, an engine, a talent contest, some sort of love triangle and Elvis gets the girl in the end. Oops, did I spoil it?
Whatever the case may be, there are some fine musical performances in Viva Las Vegas that standout and make the fun even more worthwhile. Most notable are Elvis' performance of the title song "Viva Las Vegas", the Elvis and Ann-Margret duet "The Lady Loves Me", and the the hyper-sultry Ann-Margret solo feature "Appreciation".
There's plenty of good clean fun here for all, so grab your air guitar, curl your lip and watch Elvis take on the strongest female costar he ever had.
Originally filmed in Panavision and shot in Metrocolor (MGM's name for color films processed in their labs, which were most likely shot on Eastmancolor film), Viva Las Vegas arrives in 1080p high definition on this Blu-ray disc release in its original theatrical release aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
Overall, Viva Las Vegas wears that signature, early-1960's Hollywood color motion picture look of big, bold and bright solid primary colors and often not quite natural looking flesh tones. These films were still being made to show off that they were in full color, rather than to look absolutely natural, but that's okay. There's something to be said for that coloring book look. Some filmmakers still try to capture it today, and Warner have done a brilliant job capturing it in the VC-1 video encoding on this Blu-ray release.
From the opening shots of the bright lights of the Vegas strip, to Elvis' bright vermillion shirt and Ann-Margret's yellow short-shorts, the colors just explode off the screen - Metrocolor
What's even more amazing is the condition of this 43-year-old film. This thing looks better than some movies that were only done within the last decade. It's astonishing. I found very little issues with the film. I noticed only in the sequence where Elvis and Ann-Margret are on their date, that some frames seemed to be of lesser quality, and were grainier and blurrier, often from one second to the next. As this sequence contains a lot of special effects from the days before CGI, this is most likely from dupe elements spliced in with the live action, non-special effects negative and is not a consequence of the video transfer or encoding.
One other minor quibble I had with the transfer is the tendency for detail to be lost somewhat on distance shots. In close-ups, all foreground detail was sharp, but when there were distance shots, things tended to soften a bit and a little detail was lost.
Other than these things, I could not find any faults with this transfer from Warner. There were no compression artifacts to speak of, no black crush, no edge enhancement, no excessive video noise, and film grain was presented quite naturally.
For this release, Warner continue their trend of finally offering high definition audio on their Blu-ray titles by bringing a newly remastered lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack on this release, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. As an added bonus, Warner have also included the original mono soundtrack in English Dolby 1.0, and French and Spanish Dolby 1.0
I listened to the TrueHD 5.1 track, and then went back and sampled some of the key scenes
while listening to the original mono track. The TrueHD track sounds very good for something
remixed from a film recorded in 1964, but if you are expecting a discrete 5.1 mix, you will be bit disappointed.
The TrueHD 5.1 mix is presented with everything mixed across the three front channels, and
slight ambience placed in the rears. It works to good effect to open up the sound and create a sense of space, but nothing is discretely placed in the rear channels. This is not something that would be expected from a motion picture soundtrack that was recorded in 1964, and most likely recorded to 4 tracks for a possible L/C/R/S (Left/Centre/Right/Surround) configuration, or what we might
call today 4.0.
The only fault I could find with the TrueHD 5.1 mix was a slight overemphasis in the
upper frequencies during the musical performances. It seems they were definitely going for a modern sheen on these classic recordings. Other than that, the sound was clear, spacious, well balanced, and all dialogue was presented without any issues.
Going back and listening to some of the scenes in the original mono mix was also enlightening, and quite a treat. While the Dolby 1.0 mix did not have the same clarity of the TrueHD mix, it had nothing to do with the fact that it was coming from only one speaker, and everything to do with the lossy Dolby encoding that put a thin veil over the sound. Other than that, the balance, dynamics, and depth were all there. Listening to the title performance "Viva Las Vegas" as well as the duet "The Lady Loves Me", and the portions of dialogue leading into them, it was easy to hear that the mono track was just as capable of supplying intelligible and well balanced sound as the multichannel track was. I'm sure this release will stir up some interesting debates amongst audiophiles for quite a while to come.
Kudos to Warner for providing an excellent lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix of this Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret classic, as well as allowing us the option of being able to hear the film as it was originally intended to be heard, in its original 1.0 mix.
Special features on this release are limited to a more interesting and informative than usual audio
commentary by Steve Pond, author of Elvis in Hollywood, the featurette
Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas, which gives a good, if rather brief historical background
of Elvis' connections to Las Vegas, and the original theatrical release trailer (high definition,
2.40:1), which is in pretty bad condition.
English, English SDH, French & Spanish
Original theatrical release trailer (high definition, 2.40:1)
Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas, presented in standard definition 480i/p 4:3
Viva Las Vegas is certainly no testament to great film making, but it's 85 minutes of mindless fun with a few decent musical performances thrown in, and of course the incredibly gorgeous Ann-Margret looking spectacular here in this fine, VC-1 encoding from Warner. For Elvis fans, this is a must have high definition purchase and for those wanting to see Elvis still in his prime, in the days before the booze, pills and rhinestones took their toll, this Blu-ray disc with its exceptional picture quality, nearly perfect Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack, enlightening commentary and featurette are a good way to do it, if not with a purchase, at the very least a rental. I warn you though, once you rent this title, see how good it looks, and hear how good it sounds, you just may want to buy it.