Title: Michael Jackson's This is It
Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: September 9th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG
Time now to review the movie that was never meant to be seen. Originally intended for archival purposes for the late artist's personal library, Michael Jackson's This is It was released to theaters last year and the fans couldn't have been happier.
Jackson was getting prepped for arguably his biggest career comeback with plans to launch a live tour of himself performing some of his biggest hits on stage. The show was titled "This is It" to signify that this would be his last hurrah and probably to convince fans that all the stops were being pulled to make the event truly special. And the timing seemed perfect. Despite being acquitted of all charges, Jackson's recent child molestation trial still left a large stain on his already damaged media image. After waiting an appropriate amount of time for some of the smoke to clear, Jackson was ready to remind the world why he became an icon in the first place before retiring for good on a high note.
But it was not to be. Michael Jackson died unexpectedly in 2009 for reasons that are still being investigated as of this writing. All the months of scheduling, rehearsals and promotion had gone to waste....until someone decided to release the rehearsal footage to the general public.
Jackson's hardcore fans were thrilled to have one last opportunity to see their hero on stage doing what he does best. The more casual fans such as myself had mixed feelings about the ordeal. First there was the cynicism. We live in a society where people prey on taking advantage of a situation to earn money. Even the deceased are not exempt sometimes. My initial thought was that the film would be nothing more than a cash grab at the expense of Jackson's loyal fans. After some deeper thinking and learning further details on the project, I asked myself "What would Michael have wanted?" Whether you admired the man or not, he was born to entertain and he deserved a grand send-off. Would he have approved of using this rough footage as his final gift to the world of pop culture? After finally watching This is It for myself, the answer couldn't be more obvious.
There is no live audience to be seen here. The only witnesses to the This is It rehearsal sessions were Jackson's crew of back-up singers, dancers and stage effect technicians. Most of what is seen is through the eyes of the show's primary director Kenny Ortega who is also credited as the director of this film. There are a few reality television-esque interviews with the crew but most of the film is candid fly-on-the-wall footage of Jackson's team practicing and often improvising their way to perfection. Jackson himself is surprisingly serious at times, contradicting his playful fun-loving image that is usually associated with him. He doesn't take any of this time for granted. Every day presents a new challenge. And there is always room for improvement. What motivates a man like Jackson to become such a perfectionist? According to his own words, everything is done through love. L-O-V-E.
And love is something that Jackson takes pride in passing around. Even though he is the only billed star, he does not take anyone on his crew for granted. In fact, he is not satisfied until everyone on his team is utilized to their full potential. A fine example is Jackson's reluctance to carry on with a dance number until his guitarist got the notes the way he wanted. The music freezes in place while Michael encourages her to play louder. "This is your moment to shine," he tells her.
As a shining example of the crew pulling out all the stops, I have to make mention of how impressed I was with the new live action film footage that was created specifically for the This is It tour. Serving as an introduction to Jackson's 1988 hit Smooth Criminal, a video is played over the gigantic background screen featuring Jackson interacting with a series of vintage black-and-white gangster flicks before breaking the fourth fall and making a triumphant escape to the arena stage. For the 1982 hit Thriller, the audience is meant to wear 3-D glasses as they watch a series of undead zombies staggering towards the crowd.
Jackson often seems lost in his own world on stage. At one point, he catches himself singing a chorus note for too long. A spontaneous ad-lib. He apologizes and reminds everyone that he should mostly just talk though the lyrics and save his voice for the tour. His dancers respond with a round of applause and encourage him to just be himself.
The movie cannot fairly be classified as a concert film for two main reasons. The first reason is there is no live audience. The second reason is that almost all the numbers are paused at some point so Jackson can voice a concern or ask questions. This may be disappointing for those that want to be lost in a pure music experience.
Another disappointment is the absence of information related to the show's development. Ortega opted to present this film without addressing the aftermath. There are no fast forward interviews with people talking about these events in the past tense. It's a noble concept and it's nice to forget for a while that the person we are watching is no longer living. However, it comes at the cost of the film's overall presentation. It's intentionally produced as an incomplete film and will forever remain an incomplete film.
As much fun as it is to watch Jackson's natural charisma on the grand stage, it's haunting to picture the what-could-have-been. This is It was shaping up to be the ultimate concert experience. To say that it's a shame that the vision would never be seen in its true light is an understatement. Having said that, it is still a great privilege to be invited into the making of a legendary show. The existence of this project allows Jackson to go out the way he would have wanted: entertaining his fans. A fitting finale for the King of Pop.