This 1970 concert documentary captures Elvis Presley midway through a fateful transition, seeking to reclaim his musical primacy after a decade of self-imposed exile from concert stages. Sidelined by his big-screen career, eclipsed by rock’s mid-’60s transformations, the King had begun his return two years earlier with the relatively lean attack of his fabled network television appearance, ’68 Comeback Special. Now the Memphis legend was poised to reposition his performing profile by pursuing the top rungs of headliner status in Las Vegas, a career choice that seems even more ephemeral in hindsight than it already did at the time.
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is follows the show’s genesis from rehearsal to stage, with the performance footage that provides its inevitable climax shot over six nights. The rehearsal footage, expanded for this special edition, offers further proof that Presley’s band was simply superb: stripped of the orchestrations and lush choral arrangements that would be grafted onto the stage show, the sextet sounds both tough and nimble.
In performance, we’re treated to a mostly riveting glimpse of Presley in top vocal form, poised at the brink of bombast. This is Elvis before the onset of portentous Richard Strauss overtures, karate kicks, and tossed scarves, kicking off the show with the classic “That’s All Right.” If he risks undercutting the punch of his early songs with self-deprecating clowning, he attacks two Ray Charles classics with gusto.
The special edition also boasts digitally remastered visuals, crisply remixed Dolby audio, alternate versions that replace the original performances of several tracks (including the extended vamp of “Suspicious Minds”), a theatrical trailer, and a new documentary on the restoration of the film.