In “This Is It,” the man who turned the music video into an art form and propelled it into the mainstream stratosphere uses the same medium to eulogize himself.
Michael Jackson is the star of the high-gloss documentary, which emphatically answers the question: “What would Jackson’s comeback tour have looked and sounded like?” The answer: something close to a mind-blowing spectacle.
The film documents the orchestration of the series of concerts planned for the summer at the O2 Arena in London. It never made it to the live stage because Jackson died in Los Angeles on June 25, weeks before the tour was to have opened.
The film opens with testimonials from dancers and singers auditioning for a spot in the show. Most of them are half Jackson’s age or younger (he was 50 when he died), and several display breathless adoration for him and his music. Some weep just thinking about performing on stage with him.
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From there, the movie jumps into the early rehearsals. As it does, it unveils some of the special effects and dazzling theatrics the shows’ creators had planned.
More than 25 years after his “Thriller” video changed MTV and music videos, Jackson and his crew were ready to blaze new trails in live performance, using an array of digital and high-tech innovations, some of which were created solely for these performances. The amount of labor and creative energy that went into the planning and execution of the performance is staggering.
But “This Is It” is more than a showcase of how much sweat and energy was poured into creating and choreographing a show. It also casts Jackson in an entirely new light. From the start, including the selection of dancers, he is actively involved.
Once rehearsals start he is even more engaged, expressing an array of opinions: how he wants a song to unfold, or what should happen with the lights and scenery when a song comes to a close. No detail is too small, yet he expresses his opinions humbly and politely.
Even more impressive are his performances. Jackson advises his producers that he’s still in training, but he sounds nearly as strong and clear as he did 20 years ago. He is surrounded by younger singers at the tops of their games, but he is still in their class.
His dancing is another story. Toward the end of “Billie Jean,” he spends several minutes showing off much of the agile footwork that he made famous. As he does, the camera also captures his young dancers watching him, agog.
“This Is It” was composed as a requiem for a show that never celebrated its birth. But it is also a resurrection of sorts: It demonstrates that Jackson wasn’t as detached from reality as we all figured he was. It also reminds us, sadly, that he was ready to reclaim his spot as the world’s greatest entertainer.