“This Is It” is an ironic title for this Michael Jackson concert documentary. One one hand, the tour was titled that long before we knew it would never see the lights of London’s O2 Arena. On the other hand, This Is It is the opening call in the posthumous marketing of the Michael Jackson Legacy. The title has double meaning, making this film the most obvious link between what Michael Jackson was and what Michael Jackson will be for future generations.
Let’s make sure we’re all on the same footing here: I love Michael Jackson. I have four-to-five collections of Michael Jackson songs, from #1s to HIStory to The Essential Michael Jackson. At one point, I owned all these albums on cassette tape. I’m often reminded that when I was 5 I mookwalked at a wedding and it was – apparently – the cutest thing ever. Michael Jackson is part of my personal history.
Now that a few months of hindsight have accumulated, I can safely say that Jackson is in the top three celebrity deaths I’ve experienced in my adulthood. The other two were Johnny Cash and Hunter S. Thompson. Each left a very real mark on my view of pop culture and my growing up.
Now that you know where I’m coming from, you know why I caught This Is It this Halloween weekend: I had to. The question left to answer is: should you shell out your hard earned cash to see This Is It in theaters?
The short answer is that you probably don’t have to.
Kenny Ortega’s cobbled-together documentary uses MJ’s personal footage of concert rehearsals to form its feature-length look at what Michael Jackson’s This Is It show would have been. The sad thing is that it would have been epic with legions of acrobatically-inclined dancers, full CGI and 3D music videos and giant production props.
Watching the rehearsal footage and the behind-the-scenes shots of the green-screen dance interlude The March had me slapping my forehead with the pure potential of it. This Is It, as a show, would have rolled right from the opening notes of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” into this massive and precisely choreographed piece of dance that serves as a thesis for the performance: Michael Jackson never went anywhere. He might be older, but he’s still got his distinctive style.
The problem with This Is It, or why it is getting more of an audience than it probably deserves, is the rough nature of the footage. These were rehearsals of a show that was never fully produced and Jackson holds back both vocally and with his solo dances. The few times MJ forgets himself in the moment, both with some vocal improv during a mid-set ballad and during a stripped-down Billie Jean dance number are where the star’s joy shows through the process. The rest of the film really is a process movie, with the show being built around Jackson’s perfectionist standards.
However, we never get to see anything fully realized and This Is It never becomes a true concert film. Jackson doesn’t sing all of his vocal parts and the sound mix hasn’t been processed or tweaked much beyond what’s happening on screen. If your hope for This Is It involves loud and interesting mixes of your favorite Jackson hits, you’ll probably find more solace in the companion CD released with the film.
This Is It is interesting and a very fitting swan song for Jackson, especially after the news coverage of his death managed to twist the truth enough to turn the man back into a public spectacle.
This Is It starts to work after about 15 minutes when you stop trying to look for clues about Michael’s health and personal life and once again start viewing the man as an artist who knows every dance move and every musical part to his large repertoire.
If you’re a Jackson fan, I wouldn’t be surprised if this DVD made it into your personal collection, but nothing about this film suggests that seeing it in the cinema is required. This isn’t a 3D/Dolby Surround extravaganza, it’s a quiet last look at genius. Even after walking out of the theater, I wished I had seen the film somewhere more private where I could tap my foot to the beat and silently gawk at the dancing.
I’ll see This Is It again, but not at full ticket price.