3 out of 5 stars
Michael Jackson’s 50-date spectacle at the O2 Arena in London was supposed to be something monumental. From the elaborate stage and choreography to the painstakingly detailed supplementary graphics, everything about it was going to be a nod to the performer’s own outsized persona.
Director Kenny Ortega, who worked beside Jackson in envisioning the concerts, took it upon himself to assemble a behind-the- scenes look into Jackson and the concerts he was working on.
Pulling from over 100 hours of rehearsal footage, Ortega delivers a harried, inconsistent film that can’t decide if it’s a documentary or a concert, eschewing a look into the complicated man’s psyche in favor of what essentially becomes a concert film minus the audience.
That said, the audience is treated to an up-close look at Jackson as he works with the musicians and other dancers on stage.
To say the man knew his catalog is an understatement. Minute adjustments by Jackson to percussion and back-up singing throughout rehearsals are tedious, yet on point, and each of his critiques makes the song play sweeter the next run through.
While Ortega finds time to capture Jackson on stage, the audience never gets a glimpse behind the rehearsal facade. Seemingly, the viewer is expected to already know the context of the performances.
Only about five individuals are even interviewed, Jackson not among them, and not one is on screen for more than a minute. Every single interview sounds the same. They all talk about how great it is to work with Michael. Yeah, I know, I’d be thrilled too.
Even when the film diverts away to details about dancer selection and wardrobe, the action dies out before it can get interesting.
The rest of the film is spent running through songs that would have been performed. There are some great moments, such as the performances of “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller,” presented almost exactly as they would have appeared in concert, complete with green screen to create live-action renderings of the classic videos.
The uncompleted numbers, however, leave a sour taste behind. Using graphic representations of the stage and performers, the film attempts to show you how cool the songs would have been.
What’s compelling here is watching Jackson try to bring his grandiose final stand to life. Focusing on an incomplete vision instead of the visionary himself, it misses the point it’s title sets out to prove.
This is neither the Michael Jackson we were supposed to see in the show nor the embattled performer we all know him as. It’s an amalgam of both, and as such “This Is It” is entertaining but not revelatory.
Contact the Diversions Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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