Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Grade : A+ Year : 2009 Director : Kenny Ortega Running Time : 1hr 51min Genre : ,
Movie review score

You won’t find the Michael Jackson of the tabloids in this film. You won’t find the celebrity who once held his baby over the balcony of his apartment. Or was taken to trial for sexual misconduct with young boys. Or once had an oxygen tent in his home. Or turned his home- Neverland Ranch- into every child’s dream.

What you will find is the Michael Jackson most of us- myself included- forgot about in the last 10-15 years of his life, as his eccentricities overshadowed his art. With “This Is It,” compiled by Jackson’s co-creator Kenny Ortega (the “High School Musical” director) from months of footage taken of rehearsals for the King of Pop’s planned 50-show return to the stage, Jackson’s art wins out. If you want to see an artist in absolute love with his art, you won’t find a better example than in this film. True, there’s probably some rough spots in the Jackson persona that Ortega left out of the 112-minute film (whose title comes from the show’s intended title). But this doesn’t pretend to be an objective film, or an in-depth look at the man himself. This is a way for fans to say goodbye to one of the greats.

The film, as is now known, is a documentary as much as it is a concert film, giving us a glimpse at Jackson’s creative process as he prepares for the tour- which he announced at the press conference as “the final curtain call.” Ortega has taken footage from different days (with Jackson in different outfits) and cut together truly riveting performances of some of the King of Pop’s greatest, as well as quick interviews with some of the musicians and dancers and behind-the-scenes people who were helping him realize his vision. A friend of mine, who saw the film last week, likened it to “Lost in La Mancha,” in how it is about a project that never happened.

Sadly, we’ll never get the second chance Terry Gilliam has gotten to bring his vision to life with Jackson’s concert. What Ortega shows us makes me envious of what London fans had in store for them. Elaborate videos made to complement the on-stage action for “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” and others. A veritable “greatest hits” selection of songs played by some of the best musicians in the business (from “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” to “Billy Jean” to “Jam” and the controversial “They Don’t Care About Us”). And finally, Jackson himself, giving 150%- moving much better than his seemingly feeble frame lets on- and leading a group of much-younger dancers in some pretty damn tricky steps. Yes, there’s a lot of control-freak to Jackson and the way he works, but I dare you to show me an artist worth their talent who isn’t on one level or another.

It’s truly a shame that it took Michael Jackson’s death for people to appreciate his music again. At least I wish it had been different for me. He’s one of the artists I grew up with truly loving- Bruce Springsteen and Guns N’ Roses- are two others, someone whose music I could return to every once in a while and just remember why I loved it in the first place. Over the past year, my passion for all three has been renewed for one reason or another- GN’R when “Chinese Democracy” finally hit, Springsteen for his song “The Wrestler” and his new album “Working on a Dream,” and now Jackson. “This Is It” is a wonderful celebration of the man and his art, from his heart-rending performances of “Human Nature” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” to his intensity and ambition for “Thriller,” “They Don’t Care About Us,” and “Earth Song.”

Listening to his music again, especially songs like “Heal the World” and “Man in the Mirror,” is to hear the cries of an artist who truly felt like a song could make a difference in the world. This is the Michael Jackson he would have wanted us to remember. This is the Michael Jackson his collaborators, and his family loved. “This Is It” is a gift from all of them to the rest of us. It’s an unforgettable experience. In a way, in death, Jackson was afforded the chance to share his curtain call with the world instead of just one part of it.

Unfortunately, I left the movie hoping for an encore that would never happen. I guess I just have to make my own.

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