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THIS IS IT (director: Kenny Ortega; cinematographers: Tim Patterson/Sandrine Orabona; editors: Don Brochu/Brandon Key/Tim Patterson/Kevin Stitt; music: Michael Bearden; choreographers: Michael Jackson/Travis Payne; cast: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Michael Bearden, Travis Payne, Judith Hill, Orianthi Panagaris, Tommy Organ, Mo Pleasure, Stacy Walker, Tony Testa; Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Paul Gongaware/Randy Phillips/Kenny Ortega; Sony Pictures Releasing; 2009)
“I was underwhelmed by this concert film of the most successful entertainer of all time.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I was underwhelmed by this concert film of the most successful entertainer of all time. It’s made strictly for his fans–who should lap it up. Depending on how you feel about Jackson and his music will probably determine whether you like or do not like the film. It pays homage to the late 50-year-old Michael Jackson as the King of Pop and as a possible saint on a mission to save the planet with love–while ignoring all the negatives about this strange cat, including the tabloid headlines that he’s a child pedophile. His recent death from a cardiac arrest due to a drug overdose, on June 25, 2009, in his LA mansion, and freefall in the public image due to his personal problems, allow this curious project to serve as a means to humanize him and at the same time cash in on his name while he’s still hot. The slick film chronicles MJ’s rehearsals from March through June, 2009, for his sold-out 50-summer concerts in London’s O2 Arena. The idea is to sell MJ as a legend who will not die in the public’s mind even after his death, in other words to carry on his commercial immortality like the Elvis legacy.

High School Musical film-series director Kenny Ortega (“Hocus Pocus”) leads the production and is accompanied by a host of collaborators—dancers, musicians, choreographers, and special-effects people. The doc shows the aloof icon coming down from his fantasy world to tune into the show by energetically rehearsing and striving for perfection. Some of the bits used include rehearsals from his greatest-hits (Wanna Be Starting Something, The Way You Make Me Feel, Human Nature, Bad, Smooth Criminal, I Want You Back, I’ll Be There, Thriller, Beat It, and Billie Jean) and a short film that edited MJ into Rita Hayworth’s Gilda and into a Humphrey Bogart thriller. At times, the soft-spoken taskmaster is seen urging his flock of admirers to give their all for the show. Also included are gushing interviews with the worshipful performers in the show.

Sony paid $60 million for the professionally shot rehearsal footage, which gives us a rough idea what it was like behind-the-scenes, mainly showing in high definition with state-of-the-art digital sound MJ’s pursuit for perfection–proving that the flashy pop star really knows his material, can still do the vigorous dance numbers and cares about putting on a good show. It seems to be an odd contradiction that MJ demands perfection, but his estate allows this raw and imperfect film to be released. Wonder how MJ would have felt about that!

The rushed commercial exploitation flick has a few fascinating unguarded moments that give us a few glimmers of encouragement about the usually packaged star who wears lipstick and a lurex jacket, but mostly it gives us a chance to see him through rose colored glasses as the eccentric performer who is very serious as he prepares for his long anticipated comeback concert–making us wonder in what direction his career would have evolved if he were still alive.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”