PG – 111 mins – 2009
Directed by: Kenny Ortega
Stage Concept by: Michael Jackson and Kenny Ortega
Starring: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Travis Payne, Nick Bass, Judith Hill
It is hard for me to review This Is It without extreme bias, considering Michael Jackson is an idol of mine whose career I have followed for nearly 20 years (I’m 25, for those who don’t know me). His planned return to the stage in July 2009 would have been the first time I would have been able to witness his talent live, having missed out on the opportunity to see the HIStory Tour when it came to Wembley Stadium in 1997 (but that’s a whole other story!!). Alas, it wasn’t to be, and with his passing on June 25th last year, the world lost one of the greatest entertainers and humanitarians that ever lived.
This resultant documentary, edited together from nearly 100 hours of preparation and rehearsal footage from April-June by project co-director and long-time Jackson collaborator Kenny Ortega, proves that even at the age of 50, and after the numerable cruelties he had had to endure over his all-too-short lifetime, Michael Jackson still had the talent, the vision, the determination and the love (that’s spelt L.O.V.E. :-D) to stand while other’s kicked him down.
Even in their raw and unfinished forms, these performances of his biggest hits still leave you "Speechless" (did ya see what I did there? No?! Well go and listen to Invincible!!). The man was born to perform and he leaves dancers half his age gawping in awe as he glides, sidewalks, pops and locks across the Staples Centre and Forum stage. But Michael Jackson was not content to merely perform; he wanted these shows to be the biggest and grandest shows EVER, with a plethora of amazing outfits, sets, effects and visual accompaniments. Giant “Zombie Brides” would have floated down the o2 aisles while a brand new 3D "Thriller" short film came out of the screen and climaxed with a giant black widow crawling onto the stage and opening to reveal the man himself who would have launched into his creepy 80's classic. It certainly would have been a show to remember, even if, truth be told, we would have been just as spellbound by the man, a microphone and a spotlight. And maybe a fedora.
True, not all of the concepts on show are as polished or complete as MJ – always the perfectionist – would have been comfortable revealing to the world, but this behind the scenes glimpse gives fans a chance to see the man at work, doing what he loved for the last time. It makes for a bittersweet viewing experience; "Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’" makes you want to dance (and shout), "Man In The Mirror" makes you reflect and "I’ll Be There" makes you cry as you realise this may be 'it' for Michael’s time on this earth, but his legacy will live on forever.
Numerous featurettes all elaborate upon all the aspects of the show production – the auditions, the bling-tastic costumes, the set-pieces, the choreography – featuring a number of talking heads all praising the man himself (naturally). In truth, some repeat over similar ground and could easily have been condensed into 2 or 3 sizeable documentaries, while the main reason we are watching – Michael Jackson himself – is only featured in cut-away glimpses. The footage of him and co-choreographer Travis Payne rehearsing dance routines in front of a studio mirror are worth the price of the disc alone (especially when they bust out to "2 Bad" – one of my favourites).
European exclusive bonus feature “The Unfinished Rehearsals” (to be fair, we have had to wait a month longer than our American friends) gives us a glimpse at the ambitious concepts behind "Dirty Diana" and "Smooth Criminal", the former - featuring a pole dancer and a fiery bed prop - was due to be rehearsed on June 25th.
The Blu-ray also features the 2009 remakes of "Thriller" (screenshot above) and "Smooth Criminal" short films (although not in 3D as they would have been viewed at the o2), as well as a "Making of Smooth Criminal" vignette, detailing the painstaking process of superimposing a green-screened MJ into classic film noir scenes.
A 24 page photographic archive rounds out the package, which is a nice physical accompaniment to the disc content, featuring a lot of never-before-seen rehearsal stills.
Alas, what is missing from this release are the eagerly anticipated ‘deleted scenes’, AKA, the missing rehearsals: "Dangerous", "Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough", "Rock With You", "Heal The World", "We Are The World", "Stranger In Moscow" and "You Are Not Alone" were all practised, but none are on the disc. No doubt Sony will drip-feed us the additional footage over many years and many re-re-re-re-re-releases. Which is a shame, but us MJ fans are kind of used to that by now… As the man himself sang: “Anything for Money”.