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Michael Jackson's This Is It
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Would It Have Killed Him To Play "State Of Shock"?"
3 stars

Ever since it was announced that the rights to over 100 hours of footage chronicling the rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s London comeback concerts, a series of shows that were scuttled by his sudden death last summer, had been sold to Sony Pictures in order to transform it into a feature film in less than four months, there has been rampant speculation as to what exactly the final product would be like. On the one hands, Jackson’s loyal fans hoped that it would be a final artistic triumph that would solidify his position as one of the great performers of all time and finally give him the big screen success that had largely eluded him throughout his otherwise record-breaking career. More cynical observers, on the other hand, feared that it was going to turn out to be the modern-day equivalent of “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield,” the legendarily tacky 1968 documentary that began as a travelogue featuring the past-her-prime starlet traveling to various hot spots around the world and ended with a grotesque photo montage of the aftermath of the auto accident that claimed her life--there were even some rumors floating around at one point that his funeral had been filmed as the grand finale. Now that the film, entitled “This Is It,” has finally seen the light of day, it turns out that it belongs somewhere between those two extremes--it has some moments that will remind viewers exactly why Jackson became known one of the world’s biggest stars and others that will remind them why he also became known as an out-of-touch oddball.

The film is not a standard-issue Jackson documentary and makes no mention of his passing outside of a brief reference in one of the opening title cards. Instead, it consists almost entirely of footage shot during the intense rehearsal process for the shows that was originally intended for Jackson to watch in order to better gauge his own performances. Under the watchful eye of show director/choreographer Kenny Ortega, we see Jackson and the small army of background dancers, musicians and technicians struggling to bring Jackson’s increasingly immense visions to life on the stage through elaborate choreography, lavish special effects and even filmed sequences as dramatically detailed as any full-scale Hollywood production--an intro to “Smooth Criminal” finds him interacting with clips from film noir classics like “Gilda” and “In a Lonely Place” while a reconceptualization of the famous “Thriller” video offers up zombies set to leap into the laps of viewers via 3-D. Behind the scenes, we witness such sights as dancers rehearsing Jackson’s infamous crotch grab, a slightly testy Jackson explaining to his musical director exactly how he wants the opening of “The Way You Make Me Feel” to sound and a wardrobe designer saying with a straight face that his efforts are so cutting-edge that he has been “working with scientists in the Netherlands.” Most significantly, of course, we see Jackson throwing himself full-out into the rehearsals with the determination of someone who knows that he has something to prove--although he sloughs off the singing at some points in order to save his voice, he hits his marks with such intense energy that some viewers may get exhausted just watching him.

As a behind-the-scenes look at how a concert of this size and scope actually comes together, “This Is It” is undeniably intriguing but as a testament to the artistic talents of Michael Jackson, it comes up short in many areas. Part of the problem is that since none of the footage on display here was shot with the intention of being released as anything other than maybe B-roll footage for a DVD, most of the performances are cobbled together from bits and pieces of different rehearsals and as a result, there aren’t many chances to see him develop any real performance rhythms. (The climactic “Man in the Mirror” especially suffers in this regard.) Another part is that it appears as if Jackson decided early on that he wasn’t going to do anything that would possibly challenge his fans in any way--the musical arrangements are virtually indistinguishable from the ones heard in the original recordings and the stage choreography has also been designed to hew as closely to what was seen in his ground-breaking music videos. Some of the other problems with the film are extensions of the same ones that had helped send his career into a nosedive in the first place--the weakness of much of the music he recorded in the wake of “Thriller” (let us just say that “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is just as dreadful today as it was in 1987) and a grisly physical appearance that is painfully accentuated by the unforgiving video cameras.

For me, the central problem with “This Is It,” both the film and the concept behind the concerts, is that it tries so hard to dazzle the audience with all of its gimmicks and elaborate choreography that it feels too often that the most spectacular special effect in its arsenal--namely Jackson’s gifts as a performer--winds up getting lost amidst the surrounding sound and fury. Remember, this is a guy who once captivated the world by performing “Billie Jean” on television with no special accoutrements other than a spangled glove and some electrifying dance moves. Perhaps Jackson was afraid that either he didn’t have the chops to simply perform his songs unadorned anymore or that his fans wouldn’t stand for such an approach and so he decided to throw in stuff like aerialists, giant robot spiders and a bulldozer to distract people. Unfortunately, even in the reduced version that we are privy to here, it seems as though the concert as a whole may have turned out to be an overproduced mess without much of a through line that spent so much time trying to dazzle people that it wound up exhausting them instead. The irony of all this is that the single most effective sequence in the entire film is the one that is the most completely stripped-down and unadorned--the inevitable medley of Jackson Five hits that he performs without the lavish trappings of the other selections. When we see him beginning to rehearse this particular number, he is in an uncharacteristically testy mood--possibly because the no-frills staging leaves him with nowhere to hide--but as the number continues, he invests it with more and more emotion and by the time he gets to the climax of “I’ll Be There,” even the most cynical viewers will be blown away by how deeply he has gotten into what could have been just another tossed-away chestnut.

Although there is still a certain aura of tackiness surrounding “This Is It”--and the fact that it is being released on Halloween weekend doesn’t really help matters in that regard--I will admit that it isn’t quite the grim example of cinematic grave-robbing that I feared it would be. At the same time, it isn’t the kind of unquestioned masterpiece that Jackson’s fans wanted--nay, needed--it to be in order to help justify their love for the man and his work. In the end, the film is more or less the cinematic equivalent of a souvenir concert T-shirt--fans will love it, detractors won’t go anywhere near it and after a while, it will inevitably fade and shrink away even as memories of the man himself continue to linger on.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19669&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/28/09 04:29:57
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User Comments

1/05/14 dr.lao This is not how I want to remeber MJ, as a has-been trying to recapture his glory days 2 stars
8/24/13 Yourmom Greattttt movieee!!:):) 5 stars
5/29/11 RLan A must see for Michael Jackson fans, worth a look if your not. 4 stars
4/04/10 the dork knight You've been HIT by / You've been STRUCK by / A good documentery 4 stars
3/15/10 LP Quagmire There's never been a bigger movie starring a pedophile. 1 stars
12/16/09 rishabh it was gr8. do not analyse as if it was a concert. was just a rehearsal.mj is true legend 5 stars
11/16/09 Jane Miller I have seen the movie 6 times and counting. Each time is goes by quicker. Just loved it. 5 stars
11/11/09 Sal Awesome, seen it 5 times. Michael proves he will always be the King. Rob you are depressing 5 stars
11/11/09 Ligaya Saw 10/27 + this wknd. audiences clapped after ea. number/AWESOME - not creepy/depressing. 5 stars
11/03/09 mark Not an MJ fan, but gotta say, this was awesome 5 stars
11/02/09 irbear Luved it!!!!! 5 stars
11/02/09 Mikael A Dobrescu The Legend Never Dies! 5 stars
10/29/09 chris i think it's amazing, some peope just over analyze things 5 stars
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  28-Oct-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 26-Jan-2010


  DVD: 26-Jan-2010

Directed by
  Kenny Ortega

Written by

  Michael Jackson

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