MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT
*1/2 (out of 5)
October 28, 2009
Michael Jackson as HIMSELF
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Kenny Ortega
BY KEVIN CARR
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Years ago before I did film reviews, I worked at a textbook publishing house, and after a project ended, a bunch of the writers there bought a gift for our editor. She was grateful and went on to tell us all the ideas she had for gifts for us, even though we never got them. Awkward, to say the least… and quite a bit disappointing.
I felt very similar while watching the pseudo concert film “Michael Jackson’s This Is It.” Rather than a concert film, or a documentary about making the concert (which could have been good, along the lines of “Madonna’s Truth or Dare”), the movie is a rehearsal film that dares to say, “Look how awesome this concert would have been if our goofy star hadn’t overdosed on drugs in June.”
What we get instead is a hodge-podge of archival video footage that was never meant to be seen by anyone outside of the production. The camerawork is shoddy, and watching the pixilated footage on the big screen gave me a headache. It’s like watching a two hour YouTube video on a 20-foot screen.
Even if you can separate Michael Jackson the performer from Michael Jackson the tabloid lightning rod, you don’t get the best performance out of the man. In all the footage, he’s pulling his punches on the dancing and the singing, and for good reason. Why bust yourself up to perform in rehearsal (and face injury or losing your voice) before the opening night that never happened?
There are parts of the concert that are finished as video elements, and these looked mighty neat – from Jackson digitally inserting himself into a Humphrey Bogart film to the non-3D presentation of the “Thriller” retrospective. Yes, these things are cool, but they aren’t show-stopping. Like I said, this would have been a hell of a concert, but it’s not a hell of a movie by a long shot.
Die-hard Michael Jackson fans will fawn over this film as it contains some of his last moments, and it shows a rare behind-the-scenes look at his rehearsal process. Sadly, there’s very few interesting moments in the rehearsals, which actually do more to support the concept of him being a loon. Whether he’s complaining about the sound of the playback audio in his ear to his impromptu dance moves from “Animal House” before declaring he’s going to burn his jacket on stage, Michael Jackson comes off as unstable and scatterbrained.
In fact, the opening ten minutes of the movie is so overdone with faux remembrance and doey-eyed interviews with the back-up dancers that had I not known anything about Michael Jackson, I would have thought this could be a hilarious comedic follow-up to “This Is Spinal Tap.”
The line-up of songs calls back to Jackson’s heyday, as far back as the Jackson 5 moments and his biggest hits from the 80s. Sure, these songs are still awesome, and I can’t deny the man’s impact on the music scene, but I found nothing special in the rehearsal moments. It was rough and half-baked, and even the big production numbers don’t come off well.
The movie has serious pacing issues, which was bound to happen when you cram so many musical numbers into two hours with very little down-time. In this way, it reminded me of “The Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience,” only the JoBros concert looked a lot better. By the 90-minute mark, I was seriously bored to tears, wanting to run out of the theater as if it were on fire.
Making the pacing even worse was Jackson’s ode to the environment with his selection “Earth Song,” which includes a voice over from Jackson talking about how we need to love trees and take care of the Earth. (Forget the fact that his Neverland Ranch has a massive carbon footprint and the guy wasted resources worse than a Hummer with a bad carburetor.) This song brings the film to a screeching halt and reminds us that his best work was done before 1990.
“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” is the biggest money grab from the entertainment industry, with concert promoter AEG making Criswell-style predictions like the flick will make $250 million its first weekend. Make no mistake: this film isn’t honoring Michael Jackson. It’s just trying to make a fast buck for all involved.