When this film was released in 2009 I wasn’t sure if I would see it, given my profound disapproval of what I felt was Sony’s obviously exploitative decision to produce and release the documentary, so soon after Michael Jackson’s death.
I never did see it that year.
But eventually, my curiosity and love for MJ trumped my disgust for Sony, and I acquiesced, and finally saw the film on Sunday afternoon, almost 4 years after it was released.
It’s difficult to review a film like this – essentially a filmed pre-concert concert, assembled from rehearsals that occurred between April through June 2009, for a tour scheduled for that summer.
For roughly 2 hours, it’s Michael Jackson – mostly a very serious Michael – prepping quite rigorously for a concert tour that, due to his abrupt death, never came to pass. And how unfortunate, because the audiences who would have been lucky enough to be present for the live performances, would most certainly have been very entertained, and even enriched by the experience. They would’ve gotten more than their money’s worth.
Because iIf there’s one thing I took away from watching This Is It, it’s that, quite a lot of work goes into producing a concert fit for a king – the King of Pop, that is. I was continuously impressed by the effort (and likely money) that apparently went into the preparation for the tour.
There’s the old joke about the guy who asks pianist Arthur Rubinstein how to get to Carnegie Hall; and Rubinstein replies, “Practice, practice, practice.” And that’s exactly what they do here!
The dancers, the musicians, the crew behind the pyrotechnics, and of course, MJ himself, who, throughout the entire documentary, is so self-assured and in full control of almost every aspect of the production, never hesitating to express his dissatisfaction (as well as praise) when necessary – traits that seem so counter to the almost fragile, effete Michael Jackson that the media often portrays.
The man knows his music, his dance moves, what he wants and demands perfection, of himself, first and foremost, and as well as those around him, and he clearly has the respect of each and every person involved in every piece of what looked like quite an elaborate puzzle.
Clearly he wants to thrill his fans who would’ve paid decent sums of money to see him perform live, and ensure that they are satisfied and even overwhelmed once the show is over, and one can only admire him for that. There’s absolutely no room for mediocrity here.
Your appreciation for the film will likely depend on your appreciation for the man at the center of it, because it’s really all about him, as it should be.
It seems useless to talk about it mechanically, or as a work of film art (the editing, the cinematography, the story, the direction, the message underlying it all, etc). Don’t bother trying to analyze those individual particulars. Just sit back, behold a master at work, and bask in it all, because it works. It gets the job done. You, the audience, are made privy to the kind of footage you likely would never get to see under most similar circumstances. You get to witness how much work goes into the preparation for a concert of this magnitude, as each piece is imagined and brought to life, minus frills, and adornments. You get to see the magic that happens behind the curtain, in lieu of what you would have seen live and on stage, but now never will.
In a way, it’s like buying a DVD that comprises solely of extra, behind the scenes features, without the completed film.
My only gripe (and it’s a minor one) is that it could have been about 15 minutes shorter. Even in the case of an electrifying performer like Michael Jackson, watching him practice and prepare repeatedly, eventually starts to feel monotonous, as my mind wandered a bit, during the last act.
Regardless, I think any fan of MJ’s will appreciate what This Is It offers – a glimpse of a Michael that I don’t think we ever really got to know, and the final steps of a genius, fully dedicated to his craft, as well as the audiences that still love and support him.