I’ve got to admit – I was totally psyched to see Michael Jackson’s This Is It. I love a good concert movie and there’s been a few over the the two years or so. I highly recommend U2 3D and The Rolling Stones Shine A Light, even for non-fans; I can’t speak on the merits of either the Jonas Brothers or the Hannah Montana concert films, though I’d guess they’re not exactly on par.
Going into This Is It, I did have to continually remind myself that the film wasn’t going to be your typical concert film – no audience, no complete performances per se. Mainly just high quality rehearsal footage of MJ preparing for his series of comeback/farewell shows. But I did hope to hear the man sing unaccompanied by backing tapes, because I was truly sceptical as to whether Jackson was still able to sing live. And I suppose I have to admit to the morbid curiosity I had regarding the shape the King Of Pop was in at the time of his death.
Watching the nearly 2 hour long This Is It, my questions were answered. Michael Jackson sings amazingly well throughout the film. He does clip notes here and there (I call it “pulling a Vince Neil” – Motley Crue fans will get it), and during the first two songs he misses a few lyrics, but it appears to me that those instances are more about Jackson finding his footing on stage than any possible deficiencies on his part. While he states on a few occasions that he’s trying to conserve his voice during rehearsals, he does allow himself to cut loose during “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – it’s one of those instances that reminded me of why I listened to Michael in the first place.
As great as it is to hear MJ sing, his dancing is equally captivating. To this rhythmically challenged writer, it just seems as though Michael’s moves are completely non-human. On his own or with his dancers surrounding him. Jackson is clearly in control onstage. Maybe that’s the only place he ever really was in control.
This Is It manages to give an approximation of what the actual concert experience was going to be. We watch the creation of footage that was supposed to be used during the performance (Michael teaming up with Humphrey Bogart during “Smooth Criminal”; new cemetery scenes for “Thriller”). Michael is there for all of it, and it’s pretty inspiring to see that, at least as a creative person, he had his wits about him. There are a few times during the film where he appears skeletal which made me wonder about his health, but overall MJ appears in solid shape.
Where This Is It is lacking for me is real emotion to raise it above being simply a collection of footage. I wanted to know more about the people surrounding Michael – specifically, the dancers or Jackson’s amazing guitarist Orianthi Panagaris (whose playing is worth the price of admission alone). You get a few lines from them at the beginning, but I wanted more insight and emotion from everyone involved. Perhaps because it was somewhat rushed into theatres or maybe because the footage was meant to be nothing more than, if anything, DVD extras rather than a feature length experience, This Is It doesn’t feel anything like a complete film to me.
Ultimately, while This Is It is a solid and sometimes moving last testament of Michael Jackson’s legacy as a musician and entertainer, it doesn’t really hold up as much more than that. It’s worth your time if you’re interested, but it will never match the levels of the best concert films.