Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The family had just returned from an out of town trip and the first thing my wife does is turn on the TV. It’s what she does… enter the house, turn on the TV. NBC is doing a story on Michael Jackson which did seem a little strange because though the man is an international superstar I couldn’t recall him recently doing anything of note that would require coverage. Then we observed that Ann Curry was speaking about Michael in the past tense. While we didn’t know the particulars it was pretty obvious that they were covering the death of Michael Jackson. Since then, as you well know, there’s been a lot of hullabaloo surrounding Michael Jackson’s death with some it surrounding this movie ‘This is It’ which consists of rehearsal footage and film outtakes of Michael and his crew preparing for his latest and what he said would be his final concert extravaganza. And what a concert it would’ve been.

The movie opens with some statements from some of the young people chosen, out of what looked like thousands of auditioners, to be Michael’s primary dancers. The emotion that these kids had and the sheer joy that they possessed in being chosen to be one of Jackson’s dancers was pure and genuine. They were literally in tears.

From there we spend a lot of time with the concerts director Kenny Ortega as he attempts to organize the massive set pieces and seeming endless array of elements that were going to be used in bringing this concert to fruition. Lights, musicians, pyrotechnics, green screen effects, numerous sets, costumes, hydraulics… they were even inventing new technology to be used in this concert. And at the center of these rehearsals was Michael Jackson, not looking too much worse for the wear considering what we know now, lording over every single detail of what was going to happen at his show. Watching Michael Jackson in this setting is almost a primer for what it takes to be successful, which consist of one part talent and ten parts preparation and hard work. It’s not an accident that this cat was as successful as he was because watching him in action in this film, he came off as a perfectionist and a taskmaster. Through his soft feminine voice Jackson made it a point to get what he wanted when he wanted it and he wasn’t going to accept any less or tolerate any excuses.

But ‘This is It’ is mostly about the music as Michael performs full sets of some his biggest hits for his legions of fans, shown in various styles be it the rehearsal version of ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’, or the old movie version of ‘Smooth Criminal’ featuring Humphrey B. and Edward G., or the throwback set of the Jackson Five with Michael giving us a little ‘Stop the Love You Save’. He sings a lot of his old songs in this movie and if you see this movie one of the things that you’re going to have to deal with in the theater showing this movie is people in the audience singing these songs along with Michael. I kinda wish they weren’t doing this, I mean I know the lyrics to ‘Billie Jean’ too but I’m not singing it out loud in a crowded movie theater. But considering that this movie is for Michael’s fans and considering that this is truly it, I can’t be too mad at them.

I was in junior high when my brother brought home his ‘Off the Wall’ vinyl, a record he would play over and over and over again until the grooves wore down. I know every word to every song on that album and I learned it all against my will since we shared a room. He was killing me. But despite being aurally assaulted by Michael Jackson as a child I’ve always been a fan of the man’s music. Not a fanatic mind you but a fan as I was a fan of many artist back then. And if you were a fan of Michael Jackson then ‘This is It’ is quite honestly a can’t miss proposition. My concern when they announced this movie was that it was just going to be a money grubbing opportunity filled with grainy video just to take advantage of Jackson’s death and his fans, and while this probably still is a money grubbing opportunity for Sony, it is at least a real, legitimate honest to goodness, well shot, well presented movie. What you won’t get from ‘This is It’ is anything even remotely personal from Michael Jackson because he doesn’t speak to the camera ever. He communicates with his charges throughout the film but unlike say the music director or the vocal director or the dancers who all speak directly to the audience, and in some cases directly to Michael, the man himself wasn’t doing any of that. Or removing his reflective sunglasses which further distances the man from those around him. He took his shades off for a second while doing ‘Billie Jean’ but immediately put them back on. You will learn very little about Michael Jackson that you probably didn’t know already before stepping into this movie, remaining a mystery to the grave.

One last thing, as a friend pointed out after the movie, Michael looked pretty good all things considered. For someone who was supposed to be addicted to all kinds of drugs and sickly weak he looked okay. There were times during rehearsals that he looked tired but then this a six foot 120 pound fifty year old man over here. Plus a Michael Jackson concert isn’t a James Taylor concert. J.T. will be sitting on stool holding a guitar belting out folk songs until he’s eighty where Michael is dancing, moonwalking, pop-locking, shaking, shimmying and falling on the ground while trying to keep up with twenty year old background dancers with 2% body fat. At the age of fifty. So a little exhaustion was not unexpected. Not surprisingly, more mystery surrounding Michael Jackson.

So like I said, if you’re a fan of the music of Michael Jackson and want to see some of this music as it has never been seen before then ‘This is It’ is required viewing. What a concert it would’ve been.

Real Time Web