This is not a film about Michael Jackson’s life; his eccentricities and tribulations are never addressed.
Neither is this film about his death; not once did it mention Jackson’s untimely end.
This film is simply a compilation of segments of rehearsal footage for his then-upcoming concert, This Is It. And the film, more concert than documentary, is one that demands to be seen on the big screen.
This Is It opens in true documentary fashion, featuring interviews with Jackson’s background dancers professing their love and gratitude to Jackson and his music. Although this portion is heartfelt, what comes next makes the film worthwhile.
There he is, 50-year-old Jackson, his movements just as sharp and innovative as ever, not even breaking a sweat. At one point, the choreography requires him to throw a tantrum on the floor, throw punches and kicks and then roll on his back and kick his legs high up in the air, his weight supported only by his upper arms. He does this move quite energetically. Twice.
As Jackson begins to sing, his voice does not falter. His notes ring out as clearly as if he recorded them as a young man. His vocal improvisations are perfectly in tune — no lip-syncing in sight.
Of course, Jackson has other signature moves in his razor-sharp choreography repertoire. Yes, there is crotch-grabbing, although one of the choreographers does explain to the background dancers that it is more of an illusionary hand motion than an actual grab.
The intimate elements do not end there. There are at least three songs in which Jackson either stares longingly at, serenades, suggestively grabs and/or shows amorous affection toward a woman half his age. But that’s showbiz.
Jackson seemed none too worse for the wear. He never looked over-exerted or stressed. His only injuries seemed to occur on his fingertips, as evidenced by the constant presence of band-aids, perhaps because of his fondness for snapping.
Jackson was involved in everything: auditions, lighting, video segments, special effects, editing, music, you name it. Jackson is a perfectionist because he assumes, accurately, that he knows what the audience wants — songs they know, sung how they were recorded.
“We’re going to sing the songs the fans want to hear,” Jackson said in the film.
This was often frustrating for the musicians, who wanted to add their own flair to the concert. But Jackson did allow himself and the musicians to play with the preludes and endings of songs, probably because at that point the audience isn’t singing along.
Jackson knows all the beats and keys of his recordings. He also has an acute sense of timing, especially when he needed to slow things down and “let it simmer.”
Jackson is very aware that the lyrics, music, dancing, lighting and special effects have to be perfectly synchronized, or the effect will be lost. He is almost over-calculating in his choreography, often stating aloud what he intends to do in a sequence, down to the buttoning and unbuttoning of his jacket.
Anytime something wasn’t done according to Jackson’s taste, he was exceedingly polite about correcting the crew.
“It’s all in love. L-O-V-E. Love. We’ll get there. That’s why we have rehearsal,” Jackson said.
He would even go so far as to blame other’s mistakes on himself. As opposed to pointing fingers, he would say, “I’m having trouble adjusting.”
But once Jackson got the production to the level that he wanted, he enjoyed himself. He was visibly eager and excited. He always wanted to jump right into everything and just run it, over and over. Performing made him happy, and it showed. When everything went perfectly, sometimes he couldn’t help but smile in his final pose. Yet, he was as modest as he was flawless, always apologizing for not doing better what was already perfect.
“Well, that’s the feeling of it,” Jackson said.
There were a few surprises in the film. Jackson is actually quite funny. He makes jokes with the cast and crew, and even makes fun of himself. Most hilariously, he likens some of his dance moves to the pre-flight hand gestures of flight attendants.
Jackson is also a better actor than I anticipated. They created a video clip to transition into “Smooth Criminal.” Jackson plays a mobster-style criminal who shoots Tommy guns and crashes though windows. Uncannily, it works. And on stage, while being serenaded by a female singer, his emotions of shy affection look, oddly, genuine.
Another new addition to the stage were Jackson’s “Billie Jean” socks, which were designed to light up. Jackson went all out on the concert; from elaborate set pieces to fireworks, no expense was spared.
It is apparent that the filmmakers had limited footage to work with, which is truly a pity — especially to long-time Jackson fans who refuse to admit that this is it for MJ.
“This is the final curtain call,” Jackson said.
Hold for applause. Fade to black.