Movie Reviews

Film Review: “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”

(Columbia Pictures. 1 hour, 51 minutes. Rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images. Directed by Kenny Ortega.)

Well-crafted, entertaining, fascinating tribute to the King of Pop. Consisting primarily of rehearsal footage while Jackson prepared for a series of 50 (!) concerts in London, This Is It should serve to remind those who see it that he was a tremendously talented musician. A crawl at the beginning of the movie tells us the footage was shot both for Jackson’s personal library and for possible use as a video element for the concerts. The footage is high-quality, not the grainy, shaky-camera “rehearsal” stuff you might expect. Jackson, Ortega and crew were clearly working on what would have been a spectacular show, with large set pieces, 3D film, and of course top-level musicians and singers backing the star. It’s remarkable to see Jackson, at age 50, still nimble as he takes command of the stage, even in rehearsal. Understandably, most of the time he’s not singing in full voice, which is a bit frustrating for the viewer. We don’t get the fabulous stage costumes either (although even Jackson’s rehearsal clothes merit some interest).

He still had the babyish speaking voice, and probably weighed less than anyone else on stage, but don’t doubt that Jackson was in charge during the creative process. Working on the opening number, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,'” a single from 1982’s Thriller, Jackson tells the band they have to make it more “funky.” “It’s just not there,” he says quietly, and correctly. We also see him working on a film montage for “Smooth Criminal” which inserts him into scenes from noir classics Gilda and In A Lonely Place. The songs, mostly written by Jackson and mostly great, keep coming: we hear parts or all of “Speechless,” “They Don’t Care About Us,” “Human Nature,” “The Way You Make Me Feel” and more, culminating with “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Man in the Mirror.” Since I’m old enough to remember the Jackson 5 years, I was treated to a brief medley from that period (“I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There”) which Jackson struggled with a bit (it turned out to be a monitor problem; as he says a number of times when there’s a snafu, “Well, that’s why we rehearse”). It’s my hope that the “Wacko Jacko” years don’t overshadow what he was really about: music and showmanship. This Is It is a must for Jackson fans, and worthwhile for any pop music fan.

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