Michael Jackson’s This Is It
The King of Pop Still Had It

While at a press conference in London, the late Michael Jackson announced that his final concert tour was going to be for his fans.  Well, I’ve considered myself a fan for as far back as I can remember.  I nearly wore out my parents’ LP of the Thriller album and when I first purchased an iPod, my favorite Jackson tunes were the first to be imported.  Despite all the scandal and controversy that followed Jackson later in his life, when he passed away on June 25, 2009, I chose to remember him solely as the entertainer I grew up loving.  I chose to remember the King of Pop.  This Is It does little to impress as a movie, but flashes of that pop genius run throughout.

Director Kenny Ortega never really decides if This Is It is a concert film or a documentary.  The film opens with moist-eyed background dancers telling us about how they got to be a part of the project.  You would expect the interviews to continue, but instead the dancers are relegated to their place in the background, showing up only to rehearse their crotch grabs and jump up and down like teenage girls at a Beatles concert while Michael shows that he’s still got the moves.  There are more interviews later in the film with choreographers and members of the band, but they are very brief, forgettable, and show up at seemingly random moments.

Michael Jackson rehearses in This Is ItIt’s for the best because the story of This Is It is Jackson himself, and the majority of the film focuses on what he is doing onstage.  Watching the King of Pop go at it, it’s hard to imagine that the man would be dead before the concert he was rehearsing ever came to fruition.  Although he does appear very frail at times, his legs still move in ways that don’t seem humanly possible.  Not even the background dancers half his age can keep up.

Although he reminds us on more than one occasion that he needs to save his voice, sometimes he gets lost in the moment and belts out all the big notes of many of his classic hits.  Jackson is a smart guy and he knows what his audience wants.  Therefore, the concert he was preparing to give featured only the best of the best; hits like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “Thriller.”  He even pulls out some really old school hits from his days with the Jackson 5.

As great of a singer and a dancer he was, Jackson was also a preeminent showman and this concert was to be as elaborate and fantastic as could be imagined.  Fire would race around the stage, fireworks would erupt, construction equipment would drive right on stage, and Jackson would even emerge from the belly of a giant spider.  New music video footage was shot as well that would play on a giant screen behind the stage.  One such video has Michael appearing in classic film noir opposite icons like Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Rita Hayworth, all to the tune of “Smooth Criminal.”

Of course, we are often reminded that this is indeed rehearsal footage as Michael may skip some lyrics to focus on the dance moves, or interrupt the proceedings to complain about his earpiece.  There are interactions with musicians and performers that give you an idea of the kind of perfectionist that he was.  It’s all an interesting look at Jackson’s creative process, but there were certainly times when these breaks in the performances felt like annoying interruptions.

Although the performances are incomplete and still in obvious need of more rehearsal, they were nevertheless enough to elicit cheers from the audience after each number; and yes, I admit I caught myself rocking my head a few times.  The half-hearted attempt to make a typical talking heads documentary fails, but fortunately there is plenty of vintage MJ to balance that out.  It’s fun to watch the King of Pop be the King of Pop.

Michael Jackson’s This is It is rated PG for “some suggestive choreography and scary images.”  There is a lot of crotch grabbing and new “Thriller” images that may be inappropriate for younger children.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Michael Jackson’s This is It.