October 29, 2009
The Pop Spectacular That Almost Was
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: October 29, 2009
Death returned Michael Jackson’s humanity, and in a curious, tentative way so too does “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” a rushed and ragged monument to the man, his work and the commercial interests of those he left behind. At once agreatest-hits compendium and a suggestive glance at what might have been, the movie — which had its premiere Tuesday and opened Wednesday on a staggering 18,000 screens worldwide — has been so nakedly designed to serve so many different agendas that it seemed unlikely anything would be left for Mr. Jackson’s fans beyond the sheer spectacle of such colossal posthumous exploitation. Skip to next paragraphSkip to next paragraph
This Was It
Fans Gather Worldwide to Welcome Jackson Film (October 29, 2009)
Times Topics: Michael Jackson
Yet something remains here, though it’s hard to know whether it’s the ghost or our love, perhaps both. Whatever the case, the on-screen results are weird and watchable, by turns frustrating and entertaining, and predictably a littlemorbid. Directed by Kenny Ortega, the movie has been stitched together from more than 100 hours of taped rehearsals for the 50-concert comeback tour that he and Mr. Jackson were creating together when the singer died in June after a drug overdose. Mr. Ortega, working with four editors (Don Brochu, Brandon Key, Tim Patterson and Kevin Stitt), has punched the material into classic behind-the-scenesdocumentary shape, complete with teary testimonials from the show’s demonstrably wowed dancers, the occasional impromptu moment and plenty of canned sentiment.
The movie opens, after a bit of scrolling text, on a worshipful note, with a number of the concert dancers weeping and excitedly talking into the camera about the gig and their love for (the still living) Mr. Jackson. It’s an easy way intothe material, but it’s also smart, partly because these tears help prime the audience’s pump. The testimonials add to the overall deification that comes with any larger-than-life star production. But more important, they instantly invest some authentic feeling into a project (product) that has seemed devoid of soul from the minute it was announced. With their wet cheeks and halting words, thesevisibly moved young men and women are the sobbing, yearning embodiment of fan love.
It doesn’t take long to remember why Mr. Jackson inspired that love. First, though, you have to wade through a somewhat baffling montage featuring Lady Diana, Mother Teresa and President Obama, among others, a preposterous lineup that serves as something of a warm-up act for Mr. Jackson himself, who initially appearsamong an excited throng to announce the concert that never was. Happily, the moviemakers come down to earth (or as much as might be expected with Mr. Jackson onboard) for the subsequent rehearsals, which are regularly interspersed, or more rightly padded, with interview snippets featuring musicians, singers, choreographers and costume designers. Mr. Jackson’s family members are conspicuous bytheir absence, his brothers, father and mother invoked in name only.
The rehearsals draw heavily from Mr. Jackson’s older hits, notably from the 1982 album “Thriller,” beginning with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” and moving through “Human Nature,” “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” Some of these are accompanied by elaborate minimovies, some shot with special effects, including 3-D. Thewittiest — a black-and-white Hollywood homage set to “Smooth Criminal” and probably inspired by the “Girl Hunt” ballet in the 1953 Vincente Minnelli musical “The Band Wagon” — features Mr. Jackson wearing a white pinstripe suit and interacting with Rita Hayworth (she tosses him her black glove from “Gilda”) and Humphrey Bogart (who, looking up from a kiss, throws him a scowl). As amusing as this number...