This Is It (2009)
Release Date: October 28th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Kenny Ortega Actors: Michael Jackson, Daniel Celebre, Shannon Holtzapffel, Charles Klapow, Orianthi, Mo Pleasure
t’s difficult not to appreciate the style, rhythm, catchiness, popularity, and impact of Michael Jackson’s music, along with the elaborate stage show that was put together for his final concert tour. It had been 10 years since his last major performance, and this was the 50-show comeback that so many fans had waited for. Despite the amazing amount of talent on display, “This Is It” as a film is really nothing more than a glorified DVD special feature. The biggest shame is that this is all there was as a final theatrical tribute to the King of Pop.
The documentary covers roughly March – June 2009 as legendary Michael Jackson prepares for his return to the stage in a grand appearance, embellished with monumental, visually stunning routines. It starts with dancers from around the world scurrying to an audition where just a handful will have the honor of working with Jackson as principal backups – an enormously talented extension of his unique moves. Unfortunately, as many of them tear up or are speechless over their triumphant accomplishment, the viewer is reminded of the lost opportunity for so many great artists.
The film quickly moves to rehearsal footage, showing groups of dancers, singers, and musicians practicing their intricate moves, vocals, and beats with precision, as Michael, director Kenny Ortega, vocal supervisor Dorian Holley, choreographer Travis Payne, and others voice random tutelage. Most get to speak to the camera and explain how inspiring Jackson was, and what the chance of collaborating with him meant to them. Several moments in which Michael lends guidance evinces his perfectionist attitude (“Let it simmer!”), and it’s especially interesting to see the many instructors timidly coaching him in return, careful not to overstep his creative (or eccentric) boundaries. It’s doubtful that “This Is It” accurately portrays Michael’s mental state, but the choice segments that are shown do him flattering justice.
The costumes are illustrious, the choreography is sublime, the props and set pieces are monstrous, and the aerialists and pyrotechnics are the icing on the cake. “Smooth Criminal” gets a new look with Jackson edited into black-and-white scenes with Edward G. Robinson, Rita Hayworth, and Humphrey Bogart, and “Thriller” adds dozens of ghoulish designs, creepy makeup, and showy animatronics. All of the dance choreography is splendidly flamboyant. The downfall is that the audience is continually taken out of the moment with behind-the-scenes interferences that reveal the performances to be experimentation and practice. It’s like a test screening with unfinished footage, visible green-screens, and unpolished sound effects. Because of this, “This Is It” runs a little too long, and the overall entertainment is hindered by the notion that actual concert footage would have been exceedingly superior. At least the man still knew how to dance.
– Mike Massie