A valentine to an awesome talent


POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

”;This Is It”;
Opens today in theaters for limited two-week run

At some point in the past, I read an interview with some big-shot record producer/ audio engineer, a guy who for five decades had recorded every famous name in the business, and he revealed that in all that time, only one artist was always prepared, was always on key, never forgot a lyric, almost never required a second take—you guessed it, Michael Jackson.

“;This Is It”; was supposed to be Jackson's grandiose goodbye to the live concert stage. Set for 50 dates in London that sold out in minutes, it was to be a state-of-the-art meld of live music, choreography, stage effects, lighting, sound and various types of high-tech wizardry. Then, hours after a rehearsal, Jackson died by misadventure. Like an ocean liner already under way, the “;This Is It”; production shuddered onto a reef.

The film is clearly an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage. Luckily, Jackson was having home movies made of the rehearsals, and his home movies are a bit more sophisticated than most, with several high-def cameras, hundreds of hours of footage and multitrack sound. Within hours, it seems, a film company coughed up $60 million for the rights to release a film cobbled together from this raw footage.

;[Preview]  Crowds Fill Ward Theaters For Michael Jackson's Tribute Movie

The first screening is underway here in Honolulu for a film tribute to entertainer Michael Jackson called “;THIS IS IT”;.

Watch ]


Jackson fans are going to eat this up, and others are going to be impressed with the sheer scope and attention to detail Jackson displays on each number. The movie is a valentine to Michael Jackson's awesome talents as a performer and entertainer—they aren't the same thing—and as the Jackson family had refusal rights on any footage showing Michael in a negative light, the portrayal is glowing. Don't look for a single word about Jackson's life offstage. This is his onstage persona, a magical singer and dancer with a direct conduit to the hearts of his fans.

As a document of a stage production in preparation, the film works quite well. Jackson's choreographer, Kenny Ortega, doubles as film director here, and lately he's had a golden touch, being the grounding force last year in the “;Hannah Montana”; concert film, which had the highest opening gross of any concert film ever—until about 10 minutes after this film opens!—and Ortega functions as Jackson's Man Friday here, translating and orchestrating the King of Pop's various commandments.

The movie gives the impression that Jackson had his sawed-off nose in every aspect of the stage production, from lighting tweaks to snapping up the drum beats to designing glitterageous costumery. Although he's firm with the band about tempos, he's generous with face time, particularly in a lovely segment in which he coaxes additional hot licks from guitarist Orianthi Panagaris. “;Your moment to shine!”; he reminds her.

“;This Is It”; might be the most accurate film title ever created. There won't be any more Michael Jackson. This film has a purported two-week theatrical run, but the Blu-Ray will be out before Christmas.

Jackson looks healthy enough throughout, and his angular dancing is amazing, although there are very few close-ups—this Peter Pan was 50 years old, after all—and Jackson invariably has his hair in his face and dark glasses obscuring his features. It creates a distance between the audience and Jackson, which is curious, as concert films are all about erasing that distance.

The music is classic Jackson, his greatest hits pumped up. Even though it's a calculated effort at pleasing the fan base, it has the added benefit of sounding familiar to casual Jackson listeners.

And the “;Billie Jean”; line still sounds like “;The chair is not my son.”;