'This Is It' is what it is



Article Published: Nov. 5, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'This Is It' is what it is

"All right, fellas, do the crucifix, follow my lead." Michael Jackson stars in 'This Is It.'



Your less than casual Michael Jackson fan observes, "He gave us 'Thriller.'"

True enough, but despite scandal, controversy and an overwhelming weirdness, the King of Pop left an indelibly positive mark on the world's sound-scape.

The newly released concert film, This Is It, displays Jackson's outstanding showmanship just so. It doesn't delve into his troubled persona, rather presenting him as seen on stage - a perspective from which it's vividly clear that Jackson's reputation as a brilliant entertainer is duly deserved.

This Is It is not so much a documentary as it is a concert film, though unconventional in that sense since the concert never happened. Using rehearsal footage that, prior to Jackson's death, was not intended for public release, director and concert producer Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) has meshed together a surprisingly cohesive two hours of performance, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage and several interviews with crew, dancers and band members.
The digital footage was filmed during rehearsals for the first of 50 shows Jackson had scheduled for a massive comeback tour. And what a show it would have been.

Jackson and his producers spared no expense, equipping the stage with explosive pyrotechnics, spring-loaded trapdoors and a cherry picker, while filming scenes that cannot rightfully be called background video, considering the weeks of intensive work that went into creating them.

For instance, during "Smooth Criminal," we see a black-and-white segment filmed (ironically) on a green screen, featuring a zoot-suited Jackson fleeing a Tommy-gun-toting Humphrey Bogart. Even "Thriller" gets a ghoulish update, as each video segment is cleverly integrated with the live performance.

But the most compelling aspect is Jackson himself. At 50 years old, the man never misses a beat, his performance high in energy and rich in feeling. Add to that This Is It's masterful editing, which seamlessly combines different sequences of the same number for a cohesive whole, evident only by Jackson's wardrobe changes, and you've got a solid two-hour show.

Though not much of a character study, This Is It shows Jackson, whose reputation as performance perfectionist preceded him, in a contrasting light. The songs, though well performed, are raw cuts, and several times we see Jackson admonishing himself for performing in full voice, having been gleefully caught up in the moment, much to the crew's delight.

Naturally, some behind-the-scenes segments are just plain weird, like when Jackson, standing perfectly still, purposefully misses a cue because he's busy "sizzlin'." I still don't get it. Chalk it up to that otherworldly mystique.

When This Is It was first announced, shortly after Jackson's June 25 death, it met with understandable criticism and resentment, as it seemed a gross attempt at capitalizing off tragedy, particularly with its speedy release. To say otherwise would be folly, considering the film's already grossed $34.4 million since opening Oct. 28 and would not likely have been made were Jackson still alive, but it's far from callous. As Ortega points out before the opening credits roll, it's for the fans. And for the fans, this is it.

This Is It, rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images, is playing at Regal Cinema 7.

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