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Michael Jackson’s This Is It: The King of Pop’s Touching Curtain Call

When Michael Jackson passed away earlier this year, the media left us with a vivid impression of his final days as a hollowed-out husk of a man, a drug-addled paranoid freak drowning in bankruptcy and depression. As someone who grew up loving his music and admiring the dance skills that I would certainly never have, it pained me to see an icon and unparalleled talent like Jackson having wasted away. Thank goodness for This Is It, a touching, heartfelt, and exciting concert documentary that shows the side of Jackson the media never liked to portray—the hard-working perfectionist superstar who even at the age of 50 could sing beautifully and hold his own in a dance routine.


The documentary begins with a series of interviews with several dancers moved to tears at the opportunity they’ve been presented with—a chance to dance backup for Michael Jackson in his upcoming London comeback concerts. While this seems like a cloying way to garner sympathy for the controversial icon at the heart of the film, it’s a comforting reminder that outside of all of the scandal and strange behavior, there were still people in this world who saw and were inspired by the talent. At first, I felt pity for the missed opportunity to live out their dream and perform with Jackson on stage in front of the screaming crowds, but as the film progressed, I realized the rehearsal process and the interaction with the man was more than enough to make this the high point of all of their careers.

In the rehearsal process, Jackson is shown to be a perfectionist, often stopping numbers if they are not done to his satisfaction, and running songs again and again until the tempo, pitch, and instrumentation sound just right. This starkly contrasted with what I remember watching on CNN, where folks said he was so thin and drugged out that he could barely do anything. Not only was he not nearly as thin as folks claimed, but he was working hard throughout all of this rehearsal footage. If someone was slowly dying and wasting away, would they want to do grueling song and dance routines multiple times, more than necessary, just to make a great number even greater? The only perceived weakness he displays in the film—the occasional comment or two about saving his voice, including one after he does some spectacular vocal trills to end the duet I Just Can’t Stop Loving You—is a common concern amongst stars preparing for big concerts.

Despite the perfectionism, Jackson never comes off as a diva either. Without question, he pushes his musicians and dancers to the limit, stopping them when they’re wrong and dispensing constructive criticism freely. None of the musicians ever openly gripe about the issues Jackson takes with their work—on the contrary, they seem grateful, saying that Jackson is the most hands-on star they’ve ever worked with, and usually the bigger the star gets, the less they display that same detail-oriented state of mind. An interesting supporting character throughout the film is concert director (and film director) Kenny Ortega, who at first appears to be somewhat of a sycophant, coming just short of kissing up to Jackson… yet upon further thought, how else is one supposed to direct the show of a perfectionist superstar? He tells you what he wants and you are there to make that vision a reality, so why wouldn’t you ask him what he wants and whether everything is good enough for him after every number? Besides, Jackson is clearly his own toughest critic judging from the film, so Ortega piling on his ideas and trying to shape the show would be counterintuitive. It’s Michael’s show, and you’re the figurehead, so make everything happen the way Michael wants it, and Ortega seems to handle that situation perfectly, both placating to the icon while making sure the icon looks his best.

Finally, there’s the music. While Jackson’s trademark has always been his dancing, he shows off the vocals in a big way here. There’s a sweetness to the quality of his voice on songs like Human Nature and the slowed down version of The Way You Make Me Feel that he performs on stage here that brought tears to my eyes. The opening number, Wanna Be Startin Somethin, also made me misty, since that’s long been perhaps my favorite MJ number, and Jackson doesn’t skimp on performing the hits that everyone wants to hear. The usual bombast that one would expect in a Michael Jackson concert is all present as well, and while a couple of the numbers verge on over-the-top schmaltz (a background video about saving the rainforest during Earth Song, for example), and the format may bore those who aren’t enraptured by Jackson’s music, I found myself captivated at the concert that could have been. It’s not the most insightful film, and it’s not the most expertly filmed, but then again, it was never meant to be an expertly filmed and insightful documentary– it was meant to be DVD extras and private video library archival footage. Instead, it becomes something of comfort food for Jackson fans: after hearing about Jackson being a freak for what seems like forever, here is a fun, soothing, and energetic reminder of the hardworking perfectionist of a legend that we all loved. It’s sad to say this is it, but at least it’s a good one to go out on.

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~ by russellhainline on December 8, 2009.

2 Responses to “Michael Jackson’s This Is It: The King of Pop’s Touching Curtain Call”

  1. who the heck is that that blond backup dancer? i’ve been trying to find out since october. he’s not even in the This Is It credits.

  2. I know this review is a few years old now but I have to say that I agree with everything you said. When you watch this documentary, you feel how in control Michael Jackson was during work. He doesn’t look drunk, drugged or too thin at all if you ask me. And the wonderful thing about this documentary? It makes you forget that Michael Jackson is not even alive anymore.

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