Michael Jackson’s This is It ** ½
Directed By: Kenny Ortega.
No matter what you thought of Michael Jackson as a human being, it is impossible to deny that he was in fact a musical genius. Since in the last 10 years of his life he rarely released any music, and didn’t do any concerts, the only time he appeared on the news was in relation to new child molestation allegations or his weird, erratic behavior. It is equally impossible to deny, no matter what you thought of his music, that he was one strange human being, with sexual and identity issues that when combined with his immense fame, made it impossible for him to live a normal life. Michael Jackson lived a life of complete contradiction.
The new movie This is It then comes as a celebration of the man’s musical genius, and not of his bizarre personal life. Watching the movie is to remind yourself just how many amazing songs the man recorded in his life, and to remind yourself just what an amazing performer he was. During the course of the movie, we watch as he rehearses for his concerts in London that were supposed to happen this fall, and we get an inside view of the creative process that Jackson went through while preparing his shows. He is not some big star who just walks in and does his thing and leaves. He was a man who was involved in every step of planning and executing the show. We see him direct dancers, and talk to musicians about their performances of his song. He wants what he wants, and is very particular about it, but is never mean. He encourages his collaborators to do their best work, and will accept nothing less than perfection from them.
Watching the movie we get to see Jackson perform his greatest hits. “They Don’t Care About Us”, “You Are Not Alone”, “Smooth Criminal”, “Billie Jean”, “Thriller”, “Man in the Mirror”, “Black and White” among them. We are reminded just how great those songs really were. And we see Jackson perform. Right up until the end, that man could dance better than just about anyone else I can think of.
Ultimately however, we are left with a slightly disappointed feel after the movie is over. Because all we see are rehearsals and was never meant for mass consumption, there are stops and starts, camera work that is somewhat lackluster and of low quality visually. The film feels choppy, because of course, it was never meant to be a film in the first place. Full marks have to go to the editors and the director, Kenny Ortega, for shaping the footage into something at least resembling a movie. But ultimately, what we want to see is impossible. You get the feeling while watching the movie that had the London shows gone on, and they had made a concert documentary about them, that it could have been one of the greatest in movie history. What we are left with however is somewhat underwhelming. Yes, it is great to hear the music again, and to remind ourselves that Michael Jackson was more than just a punch line. But that doesn’t make This is It a satisfying movie going experience.