Friday, November 06, 2009

'This Is It' reminds why Jackson was the King of Pop

Over the last decade, Michael Jackson was more known for his bizarre, headline-making behavior than his talent as a performer. Thankful, the documentary “This Is It” is a powerful and immensely entertaining reminder of how extraordinarily talented Michael Jackson truly was.

When Michael Jackson died in June there was a lot speculation and vicious rumors surrounding his death. As in life, his death became the center of a media frenzy. Many questioned whether he was actually fit enough to perform the scheduled 50 shows in London he was rehearsing for.

“This Is It,” compiled from hours of rehearsal footage, proves without a doubt that Jackson still had it. Yes, at times he appears winded and he admits to saving his voice, but, at 50 years old, he more than holds his own against dancers who are 20 to 30 years younger than him.

It is spine-tingling to see Jackson, even in this rail thin, drastically altered form, going through all his familiar moves: the spins, the “he-hes,” the “hos” and the crotch grabs. He had a hypnotic ability to seem like he was walking on air. He still had complete control over his body and he makes it all look so effortless and graceful. No one could move like Michael Jackson.

The film, directed by Kenny Ortega, Jackson's collaborator in the elaborate production he was mounting in London, doesn't delve into any scandalous material. There are no interviews that touch upon his alleged drug use, his plastic surgery, what he may or may not have done with minors or even his death. All the interviews from crew members and performers are glowing tributes to Jackson.

It is clear that the Jackson family kept the film from portraying Jackson in a negative light, and while some viewers will be hungry for the dirt, this film isn't the place for it. Is there footage of him as an ego maniac or terribly fatigued? Perhaps, but what is on showcase here shows a man who was focused, fit, alert, generous and able to laugh at himself.

Ortega does let the audience in on Jackson's creative process, something rarely seen, and it is fascinating. Jackson was no puppet. He knew exactly what he wanted, and his need for perfection would be trying for anyone if those present didn't have so much admiration for him.

Using the rehearsal footage, Ortega approximates what the final show was going to be like and it looks like it would have been nothing short of amazing. Ortega and Jackson filmed new footage for songs likes “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” that would've been shown on stage and interacted with by the extraordinary dancers and musicians Jackson had surrounded himself with.

The “Smooth Criminal” footage seamlessly integrated Jackson into a gun fight with Humphrey Bogart. It is thrilling stuff, as is, appropriately enough, the new “Thriller” material. The most powerful set piece of the production was likely to be “Earth Song,” Jackson plea for ecological awareness. Filmed bits of a rainforest being destroyed would have been combined with an actual bulldozer coming out of the stage.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” would've been given a “West Side Story”-vibe, and the rehearsal footage of the song is one of the film's highlights. There also would've been smaller moments as when Jackson sings the ballad “Human Nature,” which even with Jackson restraining his voice is beautifully and movingly performed.

“This Is It” is a must-see theatrically. It is a reminder of why Jackson was the King of Pop and proof that he still reigned supreme.

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