Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Rating – ***1/2


For many people, a trip down Oxford Street in recent months would have contributed to a tasteless merchandise bonanza. Endless bootleg T shirts and posters adorn the stalls of retail outlets declaring “I love MJ” or “RIP King of Pop”. It seems the vultures snapping up these trinkets are mainly just fair-weather fans that never had anything positive to say about this man less than 6 months ago. Perhaps Michael himself said it best in one of his most brilliant compositions Give In to Me. “You and your friends were laughing at me in town. But it’s okay, and it’s okay. You won’t be laughing girl when I’m not around!”

I suppose I need to make it clear from the start, I lack any objectivity on the subject of this film. Wacko about Jacko, lost in Never-Never Land, call it what you will. As a life-long fan of the man known universally as The King of Pop, June 25th 2009 was a day that left me in shock, broken and… frankly, just empty. Of course, the Becky Clay’s of this world will scoff so hard they choke on their home-baked banana sponge. As a fan of sarcasm and twisted black humour myself, I understand all too well how schmaltzy this level of devotion must appear to non-believers. However, I won’t dwell on these details as this is supposed to be a film review.

So, on with the show. The prospects for this amalgamated patchwork of rough rehearsal footage seemed grim. Slicing through 100+ hours of supposedly private rehearsal footage in just a few months for a rushed global cinema release, Sony were blinded by dollar signs! However, the involvement of Kenny Ortega (director of the original concerts) charted a different course for this impromptu project. As a loyal long term friend and collaborator, he took the job because the release was inevitable, the film would be made regardless of his input. So he vowed to do his best to preserve the credibility of this suddenly priceless archive. In many ways he has succeeded.


Forget the relentless negative tabloid fabrications; it’s clear from the very start that MJ was in the zone. In many scenes he plays down wild applause from the crew, dismissing his performance and repeatedly stating that he should conserve his best vocals and dance moves for opening night. But thankfully on many other occasions he simply can’t resist lighting up the auditorium. He is a breathtaking, fascinating musical prophet and a deeply endearing figure totally immersed in his own creative world. In one scene he supervises a troop of dancers while eating a lollypop. Then riding through the air on a giant hydraulic crane arm he laughs and simply exclaims “Weeeeee!” Even when offering stern criticism to members of the crew he remains impeccably polite and softly spoken. His speech patterns are erratic yet strangely concise in their own unique way. In one standout scene Michael frets over the tiniest details of the keyboard intro for The Way You Make Me Feel. When asked “How do you want it to sound?” he quickly replies “The way I wrote it”. Michael elaborates, explaining that it sounds too fast “you need to bathe in the moonlight” he cryptically but repeatedly states. As the keyboard notes resume he struts and body-pops around the room, then reaches up wistfully to the sky. Perhaps that’s what he meant by “bathing in the moonlight”? It’s Alice in Wonderland logic for sure, but Michael isn’t mad, he’s simply an eccentric architect striving for perfection.

I have to admit I wasn’t sold on some of Ortega’s editing techniques. Many songs inter-cut multiple performances, including occasional split screen. The resulting change in costume and resolution can be frustrating and distracting. Although I understand the intention, I would have preferred to watch just one version all the way through. By attempting to present a full run-through for each featured song, the quality varies. Thriller for example, reveals a wonderful new 3D video. Yet the live performance is clearly lip-synched and the dancing is perfunctory. But that’s because Michael was merely blocking out and testing some ideas. In that respect I felt slightly voyeuristic. A perfectionist this strict would never want the whole world to see him during the early stages of the creative process.

In truth Michael Jackson’s spine-tingling and angelic vocals could easily sustain a stripped down “unplugged” show. He only needs a microphone, a piano and the spotlight. But Michael Jackson didn’t do subtle; instead he was pushing the boundaries of live performance via integration with digital film-making. Throughout This Is It we see tantalising glimpses of this mind-blowing arsenal of expensive toys. Brand new 3D remakes of videos including Smooth Criminal, and Earth Song were set to encompass the stage on the world’s largest HD video screen. Thousands of digital extras, ghosts flying through the audience, killer whales, bulldozers, giant spiders, and Tommy gun bullets galore! If that wasn’t enough, a team of scientists was asked to create a revolutionary fabric, allowing the crystal studded costumes themselves to light up with bioluminescent video displays! The production values are impeccable; collectively it dwarfs the ambition of any other artist living or dead. It may be four months late and in the wrong medium, but sceptics the world over now have irrefutable proof that Michael Joseph Jackson was still the most accomplished showman in HIStory. The world has lost its brightest, most unique and generous star. Inevitably not all the footage lives up to Jackson’s impeccable standards and every fan will have their own dream set list which won’t be met. But under the tragic circumstances it helps preserve his legacy by offering a glimpse of a gentle genius at work, and the groundbreaking show he had in store.

~ by thewholebuffalo on October 29, 2009.

One Response to “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”

  1. Here’s to the Becky Clays of this world, because if it wasn’t for them, the whole country would have shut down for the afternoon when Wacko carked it.

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