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Michael Jackson's This Is It Proves Entertaining But Not Revelatory

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Michael Jackson's <i>This Is It</i> Proves Entertaining But Not Revelatory

DVD Release Date:  January 26, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  October 28, 2009
Rating:  PG (for some suggestive choreography and scary images)
Genre:  Music video/documentary
Run Time:  112 min.
Director:  Kenny Ortega
Performers:  Michael Jackson, Alex Al, Nick Bass, Michael Bearden, Daniel Celebre, Mekia Cox, Misha Gabriel, Chris Grant, Judith Hill, Dorian Holley, Shannon Holtzpffel, Devin Jamieson

Considering Michael Jackson's unexpected death was only two weeks before his big comeback tour was slated to premiere at London's O2 Arena on July 8, I'm sure that plenty of This Is It ticket-buyers will automatically assume the roles of amateur psychologists and detectives, you know, basically looking for any clues to what may have caused his untimely demise.

Was he working too hard? Were the pressures to regain his pop music throne too great? What was the proverbial straw that broke the King of Pop's back?

Well, unless someone can mine an insight that I happened to miss from This Is It, chances are, no one will ever know.

See, unlike Martin Bashir's Living with Michael Jackson documentary back in 2003 that provided an uncharacteristically candid window into the pop star's unusual, and occasionally, macabre existence, This Is It doesn't have any of those personal flourishes.

And given that Living with Michael Jackson wasn't exactly positive PR for someone whose reputation was already seriously on the decline, I'm guessing that's exactly how director Kenny Ortega (High School Musical series, Gilmore Girls), a longtime friend and collaborator with Jackson, wanted it.

Instead of focusing on M.J.'s private life or his particular oddities, This Is It is really all about the music and a farewell tour that'll never see the light of day, a move that ultimately casts Jackson, and his legacy, in a more favorable light. Had everything gone off as planned, I'm guessing it would've produced that desired result, too—the reclaiming of Jackson's "King of Pop" throne.

Longtime fans, not to mention those who simply love good pop music, will find plenty to love about This Is It. While Jackson may not be quite as agile as he was back in his moon-walking days, there's still countless glimpses of the talent that made him such a big star in the first place.

Not only does his voice sound surprisingly fresh on "Human Nature" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" but his blast-from-the-past moves on "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" are so good that it's hard to believe he was actually 50 years old. Truth be told, watching Jackson and his dancers in action made me a bit tired just watching and gave me a whole new respect for the work that goes into creating a tour of this magnitude.

What also makes This Is It so fun to watch is seeing Jackson's creativity in action, a side that audiences haven't always been privy to. Always known as the consummate perfectionist, Jackson is clearly intent on getting every detail just right, and his interactions with the band and the dancers (who gush on and on about how great it was to work with him in an embarrassingly fan-like fashion) are some of the movie's best moments.

Adding a sometimes theatrical, sometimes Cirque de Soleil feel to the proceedings are a slew of fabulously elaborate set pieces. While each set-up inevitably improves on the one before it, the best of the bunch, hands down, is the modern reenactment of "Thriller," complete with those iconic dance moves, creepy-looking zombies and dead brides and grooms that zip through the air, and eventually, into the audience. And of course, "Thriller" wouldn't be "Thriller" without the requisite Vincent Price-esque voiceover, so that's back, and even campier fun than ever.

Yet while the movie clocks in just short of two hours long, there still feels like there's something missing even though he's played all his hits, namely any actual insight on the "man in the mirror" himself. While it's clear that he still loves the music he's created over the years, there's something that ultimately rings a little hollow about This Is It.

For a moment, he'll talk about the importance of "saving the earth" or offer up a platitude that "everything is all about love," but that's about as deep as it gets. If anything it only seems to underscore what he probably knew already—entertainment only provides a certain shallow level of fulfillment, whether you're a has-been or the King of Pop. And considering the tour never got off the ground, that can't help but make anyone feel a little sad once the ending credits have rolled.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Sex/Nudity:  There are several instances of Jackson's signature crotch-grabbing moves. The female dancers are wearing very skimpy (basically the equivalent of a bra and panties) costumes when auditioning. For one song, there are professional pole dancers used for a provocative effect.
  • Violence:  During one of the songs, Jackson is "in a movie" with Humphrey Bogart, and they shoot each other with machine guns. In the "Thriller" sequence, there are a few ghoulishly scary moments with zombies and dead brides and grooms.
  • Religion:  Michael Jackson says "God bless you" to the director and his dancers several times.

     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.