Remember that guy that seemed way too young to be able to dance and sing like a seasoned pro? Remember how he stood out amongst his band-mate brothers and how he seemed incomparable to anyone you’d ever seen? Do you recall that night when you were asked to focus on Motown Records’ 25th birthday but all you remembered was the guy that did something, you thought, had never been done before? Now stop right there! Stop before his nose started looking strange. Stop before the journey into the pale. Stop before the allegations. Stop before the jokes and tabloid monikers. That’s where this documentary transports its viewers, back to the unadulterated brilliance that is Michael Jackson; the draw-dropping performer that made the world want to dance, sing, jut its jaw and scream “hoooooh!”
“This Is It” concert producer, Kenny Ortega (director High School Musical, choreographer Dirty Dancing), compiles footage from 120 hours of rehearsal footage to direct MJ’s final performance. Ortega does an excellent job of balancing performance sequences, off stage preparation, some technical production and mid-rehearsal direction. There was enough of each element to keep the pace of the 112-minute feature film flowing, draw in skeptics and satiate die-hard fans. I am a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s work, which led me to be skeptical of this movie. I didn’t feel confident that this would salute his legacy. My reservations have completely vanished.
This documentary has all the elements of a well-written film. There is a level of drama and suspense as viewers may wonder, “does he still have it at 50?” There are touches of comedy and joy when we see Jackson, kindly-yet-sternly, admonish musicians and crew members, in an attempt to polish the act, and when he attempts to execute signature moves that fans never tire of seeing. There are elements of wonder and danger as special effects, video images and live action synchronize to enhance the concert experience. Finally, there’s a sobering undercurrent of sorrow as you realize this, his swan song, the mega-concert he fought to put on, will never be seen in its entirety and his attempt to give it one more go could have contributed to his demise.
This is rehearsal footage so Jackson is understandably reserved in some of the performances. Age and attrition are also evident in some of his dancing. That said, MJ puts out incredible amounts of energy in many of the performances. There was little evidence that his health was on a decline (Ortega’s editing helped, I’m sure). Music aficionados, fear not, the musicianship and audio is impeccable! I was refreshed to catch glimpses of Michael’s recipe for greatness. He was involved in nearly ever aspect of his show, selected the best people to work with and, like a well-oiled machine, he seemed to instinctively know what would wow his audience.
This Is It is quite unique in that the footage was never intended to be a feature film so it isn’t over-produced like most concert movies. After viewing this movie there isn’t much to be desired but I will try to account for my fan zeal in rating it. In true MJ form, I give This Is It three “hee-hee’s” and a big “schum-own-nah!” (BabbleOn 5 translation: Three and a half out of five babbles).