It’s not enough to say Michael Jackson was eccentric. Michael Jackson, at least in his later years, was a caricature of himself, a part he perpetuates even in death in Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
This Is It was previously going to be Jackson’s final tour, a production that would match Jackson’s life in size and scope, sparing no expense in creating a memorable farewell to music for the man that practically invented it. After Jackson’s untimely death, however, the superstar’s concert co-director, Kenny Ortega, was left with a massive pool of unused talent and effort and hours of stock rehearsal interviews and footage. Thus was born This Is It, a documentary meets musical that is more a tribute film than anything else.
Ortega is a middle-aged Jackson fan-boy who kisses the ground MJ walks on throughout the film. In many scenes, Ortega gushes over the musical icon while treating him like a child at the same time, an attitude that is oddly fitting when dealing with the Peter Pan wannabe.
Ortega’s enthusiasm for Jackson and his comeback plays heavy-handed in the tone of the film. Instead of seeing Jackson, his crew and the production objectively, we see it through the weepy eyes of Ortega who, like many, idolized Jackson.
The film is a compilation of tryouts, interviews, rehearsals and film snippets made for the concert, which is made clear as something that was going to be as over-the-top as MJ himself.
The London concert, which sold out every ticket of its 50 shows before Jackson’s death, was most likely going to be the biggest musical act of all time.
To see the extent to which Jackson, the musicians and the crew were going to in order to please the die-hard fans is saddening, because what a show it would have been. Three-dimensional film, outrageous pyrotechnics, a cherry-picker that lifted MJ into the crowd, flying ghost puppets to accompany “Thriller” and a bulldozer were all shown as would-be elements of the extravaganza.
It is both disappointing and touching to know how much talent and hard work was siphoned into putting together the concert, and, in an aw-shucks sort of way, to know that a show like that could never be put on by anyone else but Michael Jackson.
During the rehearsals, the King of Pop does little more than his signature shimmying dance moves in an effort to conserve his voice and strength, making it a bit tiresome by the end. In many ways Jackson’s age shows, but it is suggested throughout that he was conserving energy for show time.
There is no questioning how his voice faired, however, as he still sounded like the Michael Jackson we’re all used to, able to hit the highs of “Man in the Mirror” along with the gritty lows of “Smooth Criminal.”
Ortega does justice to what were going to be the themes of the concert: love (or as MJ would say, “L-O-V-E”) and conservation of the environment. In classic over-the-top Jackson form, footage of a digital forest being burned and bulldozed (hence the bulldozer on stage!) along with a little girl was to play behind him for a portion of the concert.
Between footage of dancers crying as they explain how MJ has effected their lives to snippets of Jackson perfecting the music in service of the fans, Ortega sentimentalizes the monolithic musician’s actions, intentions and aim. It is hard to dismiss that Michael Jackson had a significant influence on the global community, but despite Ortega’s efforts, it is equally difficult to forget the less-than-glorious aspects of Jackson’s odd, eccentric persona, or the less-than-favorable moments of his life, at least as long as there are still people around who remember them.
This Is It is the definition of fanfare, something that even moderate Jackson enthusiasts wouldn’t be wrong to watch and enjoy and something that MJ-lovers will cherish. And despite the fact that it will be hard not to remember the King of Pop for some of the stranger, darker sides of his life, This Is It proves that the music he made will be the truly unforgettable thing about Michael Jackson.