The late Michael Jackson, a.k.a. The King of Pop, has many other titles and responsibilities in the new music documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It, directed by Kenny Ortega. This film, created from over 100 hours of footage from April to June 2009, showcases the high energy music rehearsals for a planned 50-set summer concert tour in London's O2 Arena. Footage includes Jackson on-site at the rehearsals and the initial concert press conference while expanding beyond the rehearsal site wall for dancer auditions.
This movie uses several camera-shot styles and candid scenes for a nice point-of-view experience of Jackson, his main collaborator Ortega, dancers, musicians and crew members. “This Is It” serves as an ongoing theme while filmmakers stress a celebratory tone as the story narrative follows the planned song set in order. Highlights include an extended close-up duet sequence with his back-up singer Judith Hill as they sing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” which originally featured Siedah Garrett.
The familiar pop music set includes songs like “Jam,” “Wanna to Be Startin’ Somethin',” “Smooth Criminal,” “Beat It,” and just in time for Halloween, “Thriller,” which includes a new accompanying film sequence. The movie seems to follow a chronological set with “Man in the Mirror” as a potential encore song. Filmmakers incorporate some computer animations as producers discuss final set elements so audiences can get a clear idea of the planned concert.
Jackson creates showcases for his musicians and dancers as each song unpacks a special media presentation incorporating stage, special effects and sound. “The Way You Make Me Feel” has a great theatrical feel as dances seamlessly transfer from a cityscape scaffold down to the stage. “Earth Song” incorporates a short film and giant stage prop at the end while “Billie Jean” showcases Jackson's amazing dancing. “They Don’t Care About Us” has an impactful military-style dance sequence where visual-effects experts multiply the precision moves of a few dancers on the big screen The nostalgic surprise in the middle really puts Jackson’s collective work in full circle.
Fireworks and other pyrotechnics give new meaning to the phrase “firewall” while money seems to be no object. Filmmakers don’t address detailed budget and logistic concerns here. After a visual display near the end of the film, Ortega asks a technician if he can make it ten times better than that. “You bet,” the technician gleefully says.
Ear-piece issues and other snafus objectively reflect the kinetic and sometimes awkward rehearsal process. Jackson often justifies his reserved voice performances by saying he’s “saving his voice” for the real concerts though he does extend himself at the end of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Jackson regrets his momentary performance high, but audiences will be grateful. Extended orchestral movements before songs strengthen the musical elements even more while filmmakers promote Jackson’s messages and ideas including environmental issues.
This 112-minute film captures Jackson’s passion and artistic drive for perfection. Filmmakers certainly might feel the need to include each full song, but the pacing needs shorter segment bursts to really capture that energy. Audiences will find it hard to avoid hand-clapping, singing, or toe tapping. The movie’s soundtrack is also available for a very affordable suggested retail price of $9.99. Recommended with some reservations and rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images. Also showing in IMAX theaters as part of a simultaneous worldwide release, which started Wednesday in 99 countries.