Michael Jackson's This Is It is a fascinating look at what would have no doubt been one of the most elaborate concerts the world has ever seen. It also serves as some of the last existing footage of one of last century's greatest entertainers in his natural element.
This Is It is the name of what would have been Michael Jackson’s final tour, a series of 50 sold-out shows beginning in London’s O2 Arena. The documentary was pieced together from more than one hundred hours of rehearsal footage. Kenny Ortega (High School Musical 3), director of the stage show and also Jackson's creative partner, directed This Is It.
This Is It does a great job showcasing the entire project of the live show. All facets are covered, from background dancer auditions to the press conference announcing the tour. The majority of the footage, however, is of Michael Jackson on stage doing what he does best. Even though it has been more than a decade since his last tour, it is immediately evident that the man has not lost his touch. The dance moves are still there, as electrifying as ever. His singing voice has not suffered either, as all of the trademark “Whoos!” still hit their mark. At times, Jackson comments on how he isn’t singing full-out yet in an effort to save his voice, but this does not hurt the documentary at all and if anything it adds to its authenticity.
At its core, this is what makes This Is It so interesting. Never before has Jackson appeared so candid. The cameras capture his creative genius as he plots out exactly what he wants to happen onstage. Jackson also clearly is very smart musically, as he knows his back catalog very well and works with the live band to get things exactly the way he wants them to sound. Jackson never comes off as an egotistical perfectionist. Rather, he seems like an invigorated young artist, eager to share in the creative process and work together to create a show for his fans. The dichotomy is unique—the most commercially successful artist of all time filled the earnestness of a young unknown indie band.
Several short films that were to have been included in the show are shown here in their entirety. A fully 3-D “Thriller” sequence is definitely groundbreaking. Never before has a live concert utilized 3-D videos, but Jackson was excited to embrace the technology. “Smooth Criminal” injects Jackson into some of Hollywood’s most famous gangster movies, and he runs, jumps, and shoots his way straight from the black-and-white screen onto the stage. In “They Don’t Care About Us”, ten background dancers multiply into thousands. The green screen session for this is shown, and watching the background dancers gaze upon Jackson with such idolatry as he works out the choreography alongside them is inspiring. As Jackson dances the iconic “Billie Jean” routine solo, the crew watches and cheers, not as collaborators, but as fans.
The DVD's special features are quality as well. A forty-minute making-of documentary is broken into two parts, and offers some nice insight into the background and inception of the concert. Several other featurettes are included as well. “The Gloved One” details the elaborate costumes Jackson would have worn. “Memories of Michael” has many of the crew sharing memories about Jackson. “Auditions: Searching for the World’s Best Dancers” goes more in-depth into the cutthroat process that selected eleven background dancers out of 600 applicants. These featurettes all rely on interviews with people involved with the concert, so it is nice to get to hear from some of the people you have seen onstage for the entire movie.
At 111 minutes, This Is It does run a bit long. In some of the slower songs I found myself checking my watch. Also, I thought more attention would be paid to Jackson’s untimely death. Of course, the media certainly took care of that in the initial aftermath, so I understand why the movie shied away from that sort of content.
This Is It is a celebration of Michael Jackson’s life. I have never been a Michael Jackson fan, and This Is It captivated me. Regardless of how you feel about all details surrounding Jackson's personal life, you owe it to yourself to watch This Is It and see a true master work his craft.