This Is It Review & Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson in This Is It

Opening Date: 28th October (UK & US)
Running Time: 111 minutes
Certification: 15 (UK), PG-13 (US)
Rating: ★★★★.5 / ★★★★★
View Trailer

With all the hype surrounding Michael Jackson’s death and the ensuing furore over whether his doctor, Conrad Murray, is guilty of causing his untimely demise, it was hard to know what to expect from AEG‘s This Is It, the music documentary about Jackson’s last days, pieced together from rehearsals and behind-the-scenes footage originally meant for the DVD of his 02 Arena concert tour.

As a big Michael Jackson fan myself, I expected to feel very sad while watching the documentary, particularly after reading reports and the fan campaign “This Is Not It”, which claimed that Michael Jackson had been reduced to mere skin and bones in the last days of his life and was being forced by AEG to keep rehearsing. And despite knowing that film was almost certainly AEG’s new money-making vehicle to try to re-coup their losses from the 02 Arena tour, I had to see it.

Michael Jackson performing Smooth Criminal
Michael Jackson performing Smooth Criminal

It was not what I expected at all. Far from being the last bit of saved footage of a dying star struggling to regain his lost youth, Michael Jackson was clearly in his prime in the footage. His dancing was spot-on. While he does look a bit skinnier than he was before, the impression comes across strongly was that this was someone who was centred, dedicated to his craft and determined to test the boundaries of perfection. He was nimble, full of energy and constantly moving. One of the problems with music documentaries is that they often intersplice performances with a lot of talking from the musicians and other back-stage footage, but This Is It had none of this. There were at least 15 famous songs played during the film and every single one was a complete performance, minute by minute.

The fan campaign “This Is Not It” claimed that Jackson was being forced to go to work when he didn’t want to and that he was utterly exhausted and almost like a slave. The footage showed a completely different story. In the behind-the-scenes footage meant for the DVD, there are numerous examples of Jackson asking for the cast to rehearse a track yet another time, or coaching the musicians in order to get the timing and exact sound quality just perfect, to the point that it was occasionally bordering on pedantic. This was clearly someone who was in control, of the tour, of every single detail and special effect. Obviously AEG could have edited the footage in such a way to hide this, but I hardly doubt they could have made someone unhappy look this dedicated and engrossed in his work.

Michael Jackson doing the dance drill for They Don't Really Care About Us
Michael Jackson doing the dance drill for They Don’t Really Care About Us

What really makes this documentary work on the big screen is the fact that the actual concert tour would have been much more than a concert, but an experience. Michael Jackson and the 11 dancers (selected from the best worldwide) filmed brand new sequences on specially-created sets and green screen for tracks like “Smooth Criminal”, “Thriller” and “Earth Song”. As always, Jackson was there every step of the way, even selecting shots and assisting the director in calling for the perfect shots.

You really got an eye-opener into what Michael Jackson was like as a person, and to work with. Even when he got annoyed or frustrated, he was still polite and gracious towards his colleagues and director. One of my favourite moments was when Jackson had to rehearse for the first time in years on the “cherry picker”, a small aerial platform that swings out high over the audience, similar to that found on a fire engine. He was excited and bubbly, like a child, and the director, Kenny Ortega, had to keep reminding him to hold on to the safety railings and heed his safety. He also had to persuade Michael that he didn’t need to be on full extended height of the platform, because the singer was so excited!

Michael Jackson discussing the routine for Human Nature with Kenny Ortega
Michael Jackson discussing the routine for Human Nature with Kenny Ortega

I don’t buy it that Michael Jackson was forced into working on this concert tour. He might have been frail and needing more money to finance his rather unusual and lavish lifestyle, but watch the raw footage of him working and interacting with the cast and crew, and you can clearly see that this was a genius at work who was in his element and enjoying every moment. Best of all, This Is It didn’t feel like a memorial to a great man, but a powerful performance and enduring message of peace and activism for protecting our planet against climate change. I would watch this again, and I think everyone should too.

View behind-the-scenes clips of This Is It here.

    5 Responses to “This Is It Review & Michael Jackson”

    1. Howard says:

      Thanks Mary-Ann, I enjoyed reading your review and agree with all you are saying.

      I have admired his best records but never owned any of them, but I think I might buy the DVD of This is it when it comes out. I think I liked it for all the reasons you said – one of the best music films I have ever seen – and really great performances of some of the best pop music of my generation.

    2. Martyn says:

      An extremely well written review Mary-Ann, thank you.

      Would you like to be a show reviewer in my magazine? You’ve got a talent.