This Is It

11 11 2009

Editor’s Note: This review has a bit more personality in it. With the way Michael Jackson seemed to touch the lives of everyone around him, including those he had never met, in ways large or small, it was impossible not to discuss the documentary of his last work without some sort of emotion.

Director: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Michael Jackson

Released: Oct. 28, 2009

I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan when he was alive. I appreciated his music and enjoyed his music videos. But I only understood the far reaching effects that his music, style and artistry had on others to an extent.

It took his untimely passing and the  entertainers who paid him tribute earlier this summer for me to realize what a musical genius he truly was.

When I first heard that Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing, High School Musical) was planning to edit and release This Is It as a further tribute to Jackson with the blessing of his estate I was skeptical. How good could the footage be? Surely, this was just another way for the Jackson’s to make money – I was definitely not going to be one of those people standing in line for tickets, nor would I be attending any midnight showings.

Then, the movie came out and people who had already seen it were calling radio stations telling everyone that it was excellent. Newspapers and magazines started to give it decent reviews. I started to rethink my scoffing at the idea, and then I read Owen Gleiberman’s review in Entertainment Weekly(read it here) and my opinion completely changed. The movie became a must-see event for me, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to in the original two-week release time-frame, so I was grateful when they announced it would be around through Thanksgiving.

My worries were unfounded though, as I was able to see the movie last night.

The first few scenes of the movie are of his dancers. They’re all speaking directly to the camera and they all express how excited, happy and grateful they are that they’ve been chosen for the concert (I hesitate to call it a tour. Even though it has 50 dates, they’re all in the same venue). Yet, they’re all crying. I’m still questioning whether these were filmed before or after Jackson’s death. However, the scene provides personalities to the dancers. Instead of just nameless people behind Jackson, we get to know a bit about them and their background, something Jackson and This Is It does with most of the surrounding members of the concert’s entourage.

Then, the man takes the stage. It’s obvious from the start of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” that this is a rehearsal and Jackson will treat it as such. He drops lyrics to focus on choreography, he drops choreography to point out something he wants done differently, and he makes it very clear that it is his show and he wants things done his way.

There are glimpses of Jackson as a rugged taskmaster who wants things absolutely perfect for his fans so he doesn’t hesitate to say when something needs to change or when something feels amazingly right. While it breaks the flow of the concert-vibe that is set up with songs running into each other, it provides a glimpse into who Jackson truly is – a musical genius. It’s amazing that he remembers each and every one of his songs down to the pitch, the tone, the timing and the riffs.

All the major showstoppers are there – Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, The Way You Make Me Feel – there’s even a Jackson 5 medley (which, was strangely reminiscent of *NSYNC’s Jackson 5 medley from their 1999 “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” tour).

However, most of the songs show Jackson in rehearsal mode. He doesn’t go all-out until Billie Jean, which makes that hit a highlight of an otherwise sparse performance. Jackson jokes at the end of  his rehearsal of the song “I Just can’t Stop Loving You” that he’s not supposed to sing like he is in rehearsal to save his throat, but the combined swell of music and enthusiasm of his dancers cheering him on from the floor of the arena bring out the performer that we all know and love.

Among other highlights are:

Thriller, which has a completed video vignette which was to be played behind Jackson and his dancers during the concert. It’s the only song where his dancers are dressed in their costumes for the performance, which adds to the mystique of the song and hints at the masterpiece the song would have been had it been a real performance.


Smooth Criminal, another vignette performance which had been shot prior to Jackson’s passing. It was an update feel of the original video and Jackson fell into step with his dancers on stage with precision. If the vocals weren’t quite there on this one, Jackson’s footwork more than made up for it.

It’s apparent throughout the film that Jackson was a perfectionist, and – as we know since the results of his autopsy – in apparent good health. He seems a bit skeletal at times, but that could be due to the strange jacket choices he made when choosing his wardrobe for the day. The major factor of this health, though, is when Jackson dances, followed by singing. His voice remains strong through the duration of notes, and he can catch his breath after dance breaks to belt out falsetto notes – something that not a lot of musicians can do.

It’s also apparent just how much Jackson’s music and style affected all the music that came after him. The choreography rehearsals were reminiscent of a old Backstreet Boys or NSYNC concert, his solo dances seemed as though Justin Timberlake had stepped on stage and his beats could have come straight from Jay-Z’s new album.

This Is It’s only problem is the one that it couldn’t avoid. The fact that it’s star fell too soon. One can only imagine what the show would have looked like with full costumes or if Jackson sang full and straight through the songs. It can give you chills to imagine as you watch some of the performances, and that’s when you realize…Jackson truly was the King of Pop. And he was taken from this world far too soon.




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