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Film Review: Michael Jackson’s This Is It

By ; November 5, 2009 at 1:00 AM 

this is it poster
Michael Jackson’s This Is It
[Columbia Pictures; 2009]
Dir. Kenny Ortega

Good or bad, everyone has an opinion about Michael Jackson, and the last decade has not been kind to his image or music, with much of the public’s attention being given to the former at the unfortunate expense of the latter. Prior to his sudden death in June, the King of Pop plotted a return to musical supremacy, booking a run of 50 dates at England’s O2 Arena, described as a final curtain call and given the sadly prophetic title This Is It.

Originally commissioned by Jackson for his own personal library, the footage shot for This Is It was never intended to be seen by the public. This is what sets apart this documentary from a typical planned concert film. The footage is raw and intimate, and has the effect of making you feel like you are there in person spying in on the rehearsals. The movie chronicles the entire production of the tour, down to the backstage rehearsals where Michael is giving his dancers tips how to move to certain beats. Because the filming wasn’t rehearsed, you get a lot of banter, emotions and an inside view of how the reclusive Jackson really works.

By far the most interesting parts of the movie were the backstage sessions Jackson had with his crew. We get to see a side of him we had never seen before previously. The scenes with Michael interacting with his dancers, band, and director show the singer to have a charming sense of humor. Conversely, these backstage sessions also give us a glimpse at what a perfectionist Jackson really was. Throughout the movie he is always at the front when it comes to making decisions. It really shows how much he cared about his music. There is a scene where they are working on “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and Michael keeps making the keyboardist go back to playing the intro until he gets it right. Michael replies, “The audience wants to hear it the way they originally heard it”. Perhaps what the film does best for Jackson is it highlights his humility and kindness. It is true that he is a perfectionist, and that he demands only the best out of his dancers and production crew, but he never asks anyone to do anything without adding, “with love” or “God bless.” Jackson takes on the role of the mentor, and it is evident how much he cares for his dancers and musicians. One scene in particular, where Jackson tells guitarist Orianthi Panagaris “this is your time to shine, and we will all be there with you,” shows how he pushes her to have her moment in the spotlight, even when the show is supposed to be about him.

The rest of the film shows Michael actually performing the songs. No lip-syncing was done, and all the vocal imperfections are left in. While Michael wasn’t always at his best (he points out several times that he’s saving his voice for the actual performances), he shines for most of it. From his beautiful crooning in “Human Nature” to his angry growl in “Smooth Criminal,” this footage proves that he still had it. Not only could he still sing, he moves like no other. While it’s true that Michael has been known to be frail in recent years, on stage he is astonishing. The setlist mostly consists of solo hits, with the exception of a medley of the Jackson 5 classics “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There.” Everything about this show was first-rate, from his band to his dancers to the impressive visuals in songs such as “Thriller” and “They Don’t Care About Us.”

The film ends with a touching group huddle where Jackson calls the crew family, and you can tell how much hard work he and his group put into the show. A lot of things have been said about Jackson over the years, but one thing that can’t be denied is what a caring and selfless person he was when it came to the arts. We all knew how talented he was, and this movie only goes to further prove that, but what the movie really does is it gives us a rare glimpse of the man behind the mask.


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