This Is It is a special tribute to Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop, which was originally intended to be screened for 2 weeks after its world premiere last week. However, the This Is It "show" has been extended by another two weeks in countries like South Africa to give everyone a chance to go out and see it.
I can't say I'm a die hard Michael Jackson fan. I've never seen him live, owned a Michael Jackson album, worn white socks with black shoes, "moonwalked" or grabbed my crotch intentionally in public. What I can say is that whatever your convictions about the man's personal life, you cannot deny his immense talent, his star status and the profound effect he has had on the history of music as we know it after watching This Is It.
The audience is given a behind-the-scenes taste of what was in-store for his sold out world tour of This Is It. The film is composed of MJ's biggest hits as each rehearsal is filmed with arguably his biggest fans in tag, the actual dance crew. This Is It takes a little getting used to... firstly, Michael Jackson is deceased and secondly, the behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage is edited from several takes and forms the majority of the film's run time with a few "talking heads" thrown in to punctuate the practice sessions and a couple of voice-overs from Michael Jackson himself.
People that have only known Michael Jackson as a music icon of the radio, CD player and TV may have a little difficulty in separating this show from the cold hard reality. The songs bring back a wave of nostalgia as MJ works his magic on-stage. He's a larger-than-life character on camera, despite his publicity surrounding his desire for privacy and his shy demeanor. Watching Michael Jackson perform after a ten year absence is something amazing to behold... his voice may have deteriorated a bit, his wardrobe is still "futuristic", but his dance moves conceal the 50-year-old's age better than Harrison Ford covered for Indiana's 20 year hiatus in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
This Is It showcases the artist's biggest and most memorable hits... Jam, They Don't Really Care About Us, Earth Song, Black or White, Beat It, Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, Thriller, Man in the Mirror, This Is It and even some tracks from the Jackson 5. The behind-the-scenes footage gives the audience a glimpse into Michael Jackson's perfectionism, passion and nurturing spirit. He treats his musicians with the utmost respect, yet demanding pinnacle performances and bigger, bolder attitudes. They're representing Michael when they're performing for him and he obviously wanted the best people on-tour. From the dance auditions to the rehearsals, one can see just how talented each of the artist's around him are.
It's a massive honour for them to meet the King of Pop, work with him and even associate with his music. For many of his performers, it's been a lifelong dream for them to work alongside him, many idolising the man and citing him as an inspiration for their life journeys. It may sound a little bit much to an outsider, but to Michael Jackson fans it's easy to understand how he gave them a heroic figure to strive towards. Sure, there were millions who were crestfallen and disillusioned after allegations against the star, but his style, music and dancing has always been way bigger than his personal life.
It's easy to see the This Is It concert as a labour of love for Michael Jackson. He's perpetually addressed as MJ, Michael and 'Sir' in the rehearsal sessions and it's kind of fitting to hear some of the respectful references, reminding us, who we're dealing with... the King of Pop. This Is It is a bittersweet experience... combining the music that was going to be heard throughout the world in practice mode with the fact that it will never be heard live ever again.
This Is It captures the essence of the Man in the Mirror and treats him like an enigma. He's never interviewed, only heard as a philosophical voice-over from time-to-time, only really making himself known through his on-stage presence and unfaltering commitment to his audience. After all, Jackson epitomised escapism with his surreal music videos, massive concerts and whirlwind of entertainment. The film inserts and green screen effects for his tour are unravelled and you can see how he loved entertaining people, even with his small posse of dance groupies cheering him on through solo sets. It's tragic to be immersed in Jackson's magical history, only to be met with the dawning reality that he is no more.
Michael Jackson fans will want to applaud each song and give the man a standing ovation by the time the credits roll. Others will find a sense of closure in the light of past events, after his memorial service and ensuing media whitewash. This Is It immortalises the man, but dying at 50 puts him alongside the James Dean's and Elvis Presley's of this world anyway.
This Is It triumphs as a closing memento and intimate performance experience, but one leaves the cinema a little bewildered... not knowing whether to cry or smile. As a music documentary, This Is It uncovers a gentle, passionate and humble side to the man we all thought we knew and for that it must be commended. Be sure to catch a few parting shots after the credits roll.
The bottom line: Revealing.