Wed., Oct. 28, 2009 10:17 AM PDT by Peter Paras
Michael Jackson,This Is It Sony Pictures
Review in a Hurry: The legions of fans who have bought their tickets to experience Michael Jackson's last performance need only know that thankfully, This Is It is just that.
The Bigger Picture: Two very distinct title cards open the much talked about This Is It. The first is a simple statement informing audiences that from March through June 2009, Michael Jackson had a crew shoot his tour rehearsals for his sold out London extravaganza. In very small print, the title This is It.
The second title card is a grand and colorful marquee, the words This Is It bursting off the screen. Most likely, had Michael lived long enough to complete his comeback, only the bold and bright marquee would have made final cut.
That's the genius and the sadness of the entire film.
By now it's well known director Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) was brought on as a creative collaborator for the live show. But in the wake of the singer's death, Ortega was asked to weave a concert-that-never-was out more than 100 hours of film. And in a mere four months.
That any of the scenes make any sense at all is commendable, but let's be honest, This is It was always gonna be much more than a mere film to be assessed by standard critical observations.
For many fans across the world, 2009 is the year the biggest star on the planet died. And while millions watched the memorial on television, This Is It feels like the proper (and more off-the-wall) way to be blown away by Jackson's unforgettable moves and incredible voice—and to finally say goodbye.
We get all of that, and it's riveting, but there are small moments Ortega includes that highlight the pop star in a way he never would have. Seeing Jackson chide a musician for not being funky enough is funny—OK, extremely funny—but it also reveals his human nature. And—shocker!—his insistence on total control over the production.
So the elephant in the room is that, while Jackson at 50 years old still seemed unparalleled onstage, the only way audiences could reconnect with him is to put some of his brilliance (and the Wacko Jacko stuff) aside, and allow the more exacting and refreshingly funny side of Jackson to be revealed. Had Jackson lived, we never would have seen those moments.
Throughout the running time we're treated many of the classics, but "Smooth Criminal," "Billie Jean" and "Human Nature" are the standouts.
While some of the footage is in HD, a portion of it was shot in standard definition. The mixing of media only heightens how striking the singer was. No matter the format, even in low-res video, you can't take your eyes off him. He truly seems like a force of nature with every signature move—and some new ones!
During a rehearsal of "Billie Jean," with M.J. alone onstage, the backup dancers are giddily watching him offstage, cheering him on. We get a few glimpses into the lives of this small band of performers—for them the chance to work with Michael was all they ever wanted. And for once, there are no cynical double takes. Like those dancers and musicians, the entire experience of This Is It is genuine. That's something many of us haven't felt with Jackson in far too long.
Breathe a sigh of relief, this finally is it.
The 180—a Second Opinion: There are some less-than-stellar moments. "Earth Song," for example, uses Michael's voiceover to emphasize his environmental concerns while a bulldozer threatens to eat him. Well-intentioned? Yes, but then crossing the line into schmaltz.