Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” will resonate strongly with fans and critics as a fitting tribute to pop music’s greatest icon. Director Kenny Ortega was wise to show the effort, talent, and sheer magnitude of Jackson’s preparation for his last fifty concerts in London. It’s truly sad that the show will never be seen, because the rehearsals documented in “This Is It” are incredible. Michael is portrayed as the consummate perfectionist. A genius who kept everyone in awe, he demanded perfection while sticking to his modest nature.
The film begins with a montage of the dancers and how they were chosen. These were best of the best, competing with each other to be on stage with a man they grew up idolizing. The raw emotion for the dancers picked is a joy to behold. It is literally the culmination of their dreams, so the tears shed and hugs are heartfelt. What we see next is pretty much performances from that point on. Every song is a classic. Michael envisioned these concerts as his last, so he wanted to deliver a playlist that would resound with his fan base. He pauses to direct specifics on every point of the show. This light should be here, I will queue this change, you’re coming in too early, give the audience more bravado. Each critique followed by a “God Bless” and “Thank You” for all the hard work.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the production, but there some parts that push the limits of spectacular. Kenny Ortega and his production staff filmed quite a few original scenes to be incorporated into the show. They bring back movie idols and super-impose Michael’s interaction. This is particularly well done in ‘Smooth Criminal’. Michael romances Rita Hayworth and has a shootout with Humphrey Bogart. Michael then leaps through a window as the bullets (in 3D) come out into the audience; the background lights then pop into a sign that says ‘Smooth Criminal’. The dancers come leaping out of the stage in suits and the song begins. I will say, unequivocally, that this is the best dance choreography I have ever seen in a concert. Michael and his dancers do a lot of the old moves, but then transition into new, well-timed movements that are a wonder to behold. I have no doubt this part would have been the highlight of the live show.
The film is a dear homage to the talent of Michael Jackson. His pure singing voice and dancing ability are astonishing. He is vigorous on screen, moving and singing crisply. He is clearly healthy – as a fifty year old man – jumping around with the world’s best twenty-something dancers. We don’t see Michael taking a break, covered in sweat, or falling from exhaustion. There’s even a point where Kenny Ortega asks Michael to drink some water after a strenuous performance. He is so involved in every part of the process, the collaborators around him live up to his standard every second.
Fans that walk in expecting a personal look into the life of Michael Jackson will be disappointed. The film is a true concert film, all about the show and the vast preparation undertaken to stage it. There are no other celebrities or family members here, just the people involved in the show. Kenny Ortega realized that this would be the only chance for audiences to see “This Is It”. All of their hard work and the brilliance of Michael needed to be shown so that fans can imagine how fantastic the live show would have been.
I think this film succeeds on every level. It runs a bit long, but we get to see – I believe – all the music Michael would have had in the concert. And if you’re a fan of the music, you’ll be mesmerized by “This Is It”.
Michael Jackson's This Is It is out October 28, 2009.