Less documentary than closely and manipulatively edited homage to the new-agey genius of frequent Michael Jackson collaborator and High School Musical auteur Kenny Ortega, This Is It is about as honest as the song its named after which was co-written with and then stolen from Paul Anka in 1983, sold by Anka to the 80s freestyle starlet Sa-fire in 91 as I Never Heard, and blithely repackaged without acknowledgment to either artist by the Jackson estate earlier this year. To be fair, Ortegas This Is It, culled at breakneck speed from a few weeks worth of rehearsal footage from what was to have been Jacksons comeback tour, probably didnt have a lot to work with: Americas tolerance for the minutiae of blocking and lighting cues is presumably low, even when its Michael, and how many times can you really show Jackson dressing down the band, over and over again, for failing to correctly bathe in the moonlight?
Many, many times. More bonkers Jackson-at-work moments wouldve helped, but mostly we just see the kid from Gary, Indiana, dispensing hugs and God-bless-yous to an awed cast and crew. Watching various dancers and guitarists grin irrepressibly during their one-on-one run-throughs with the man is one of This Is Its few pleasures; ditto for Jacksons dancing, which is constant and never less than unreal, even when hes just imitating the gestures stewardesses make in the aisles of a plane. As for his voice, well, mostly hes conserving it lest we forget, this show was to be repeated in front of a live audience 50 different times at Londons O2 arena over a nine-month period. Were Jackson still alive astonishingly, the film never alludes to his death until the requisite dedication at the end, though the teary and fragile vibe throughout seems to correctly presume a certain level of audience familiarity with the fact that Mikes no longer around hed be about halfway through.
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It would have been a spectacle. The film rescues a couple of quintessentially MJ set-pieces first designed as concert interstitials, in which Jackson gamely has himself CGId into first Gilda and then The Big Sleep weirdly, he never seems more real than he does acting in digitally effected black-and-white. Less palatable is the rehearsal teams decision to remake for the concert screen John Landiss Thriller video in 3-D (?!), sans Vincent Price but plus the spider from Lord of the Rings. For this, I blame director Ortega, originally Jacksons creative partner on the tour, who here badly overreaches his yes-man, set-therapist, pyro-encouraging role as he does in so many other places in this film and earlier, on the set only to find himself lost in his own funhouse. Gravedigger! he shouts at one point, trying to get some poor zombie to correctly hit his mark. Into the camera!