Michael Jackson’s This Is It is a concert collage, pieced together from various rehearsals and behind-the-scenes footage, accompanied by the nagging reminder that the title is eerily accurate.
A title card provides context for the Michael Jackson’s return to the stage, a series of 50 sold out concerts in London at the age of 50 that would mark the comeback for the “King of Pop.” Instead he would die of a cardiac arrest eighteen days before audiences assembled, leaving behind only this patchwork version of his vision. As the opening reads, this is strictly “for the fans…”
The film strips away allegations of inappropriate relationships before his June 25th death and ignores the opportunists who squabbled over the spotlight once he was gone. Cobbled together by director Kenny Ortega, the performance prep ignores the public controversy of Michael the man and focuses solely on him as an artist. While in reality this became increasingly more difficult to separate, perhaps the greatest strength of this posthumous portrait is how the drama simply disappears while watching him dance.
As Jackson twirls and slides, his gift is undeniable and for a time I found myself settling into the groove of his nearly polished performance. Fostered over a lifetime, the extraordinary talent of Jackson is in his impeccable timing, popping and locking to the beat in perfect sync with a crew of background dancers. Regardless if you like his music, he was a truly remarkable entertainer, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a Michael Jackson fan.
His characteristic, nasally voice belts out the greatest hits, a set list of instantly recognizable songs. Billy Jean. Man in the Mirror. Beat It. Smooth Criminal is a green-screened 40′s era shootout with Humphrey Bogart. Thriller is spliced in as a newly-recorded music video. Though without the benefit of 3D glasses the lumbering zombies are a low point of the film and Jackson doesn’t fully commit to the vocals or steps during rehearsal.
The concert doc bores when spending time with his background dancers, who gush over the honor of mimicking Michael before practicing the famous crotch grab until it’s up to standards. Ortega injects himself in the production, fawning over the legend like a lap dog and letting him call the shots.
The candid documentary casts Jackson as a perfectionist, fine tuning the production down to even the length of anticipatory pauses, which he called “the simmer.” In light of this fact, and his personal emphasis on privacy, it seems obvious Jackson wouldn’t have wanted this raw practice footage seen by the public. He wouldn’t have wanted this on screen any more than you’d want your scribbled notes presented to office management in your absence. Releasing an unfinished product four months after his death was clearly a cash grab and an exploitation of his legacy.
3.5 out of 5.