This Is It
The concert film is absolutely, bar none, the worst of all genres. Towering monuments of vanity that require next to no work, served up to gullible fanatics and almost always guaranteed to bore. So it is all the more shocking to find that, This is It, an on screen love in for the dearly departed Michael Jackson, is an extremely well balanced work in which all the components are blended into a delicious elixir. Of course this one has Jackson's discography on its side and director Kenny Ortega (the High School Musical trilogy) wisely focuses on those songs that everybody loves so much.
The movie itself is rather slight, a collection of footage collected during rehearsal for the series of concerts Jackson was going to perform at the O2 arena in London. But Ortega also wants to show the way that this supremely larger than life superstar profoundly affected the world around him. The very first thing we see is a series of on screen confessionals of fans choking back tears as they discuss what he meant to them. It may come off as provincial and silly but you never doubt that those tears are genuine.
The Jackson Estate have their fingers all over this project and evidently were given final cut. It's best you accept this fact before you walk in because that's the deal, take it or leave it. And why not let them have this; an idealized vision of Jackson being spoon-fed to the public after all the suffering he went through at the hands of the tabloids. But that bias is detrimental in a variety of ways. For instance, they show clips from the bizarre press conference in which he announced the tour but the surreal narture that made it a Youtube must see is airbrushed out. But there is still plenty to love about Jackson and the entertainment that he intentionally gave us. The dance sequence for Smooth Criminal, which involves him being edited into an old Bogart film, is so inspiring that it reminds us just how tragic his story actually is.
Who knew that a behind the scenes peek at the making of a concert extravaganza could be so gosh darn watchable. Just the dynamic between Jackson and Ortega (who was the director of the concert as well) is enough to exhilarate, as Ortega tries to run the show all the while being crushed by Jackson's arbitrary whims and star power. It looks as though they were planning a spectacle big enough to shame Heaven's Gate. Why else the giant robotic spiders, the 10,000 dancers marching to "They Don't Really Care About Us," the tractor emerging from underneath the stage and the awe-inspiring pyrotectics (surprising considering that whole Pepsi mishap)? And even though the end result may have ultimately been a royal mess watching grown men brainstorm these ideas in serious tones in quintessential Theatre of the Absurd.
All of this leads to an uncomfortable truth that all that jazz is probably there to distract from the fact that the man hadn't had a new song in a decade. The old ones are great but how do you get somebody to pay for a concert that they paid for twenty years ago? Well, apparently, you bury them under an avalanche of nostalgia. Does Jackson reheating all his classics in an attempt to climb out from under a mountain of debt count as actually using his talent? Probably not. So when he died it was sad in the way that it's sad when anybody dies, but as a creative being his life had ended many moons ago. Even if you don't like his music (liar), to turn your back on this film and what it stands for is to not understand what Michael Jackson meant to those around him. The people who opened this movie and millions of others like them deserve to see Jackson as they remembered him. This is It is for them and luckily it doesn't let them down.
Starring: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Orianthi Panagaris, Judith Hill
Director: Kenny Ortega
Runtime: 111 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
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