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Film review: This Is It

This Is It, directed by Kenny Ortega.  Not fit for human consumption.
This Is It, directed by Kenny Ortega. Not fit for human consumption.
Columbia Pictures

This Is It is the much-hyped Michael Jackson documentary, released (it would seem) to make back some of the money that was blown on the 50 date stage show of the same name that Jackson was working on when he died.  Is the film a success?  Well, that depends on what you're looking for.  If you're hoping to see an intimate portrayal of Jackson's final, drug-addled days, then no.  If you're hoping to see an exciting account of how a large-scale production exactly comes together, then no.  If you're just wanting to see an exhilarating concert film spectacular, then no.  If you want to hear backup dancers gush, Michael Jackson whisper his own songs, and occasional boring stage and music-direction chatter, then This is for you.

When I arrived at the box office, I was given a "souvenir" laminated, backstage pass looking card on a lanyard.  On one side was an advertisement for This Is It, available for pre-order on DVD.  On the other was essentially the movie poster, with the tag-line "Discover the man you never knew."  This sentence is horribly misleading.  There is no "getting to know" the late Michael Jackson.  He speaks to a couple of people in child-like optimistic words and offers a few layman words about how his music should be played to the musicians, but these conversations are not the least bit revealing, nor candid.  Everything Jackson says throughout the course of the film is done so with the knowledge that any one of the many people in the room could hear it (ironically though, his dailogue is often subtitled in the film because he speaks so much quieter than everyone else).

Wouldn't it be great to "get to know" a washed-up fifty year old pop star, on copious amounts of drugs and undertaking his most ambitious anything in over a decade?  Of course, but that's not what this film offers.  Instead you get a lot of performances of the songs he was going to perform including several groan-inducting ballads.  The vocals, as previously mentioned, are so weak that they are virtually inaudible, and Jackson's dancing is for the most part stiff and awkward.  The show itself, by the looks of it, was going to be the worst kind of show: Too many musicians, four backup singers and Broadway-style dance routines by the backup dancers, complete with choreographed freezes and mime-acting. 

The director, Kenny Ortega, also inexplicably decides to kill time by showing the filming of the video projection footage for the show.  These range from campy (the new 3-D graveyard "Thriller" sequence) to putridly sappy and cliche (one portrays  a girl in the rain-forest playing with a CGI butterfly before getting chased by a bulldozer, yikes).

So there you have it.  The performances and recordings are too weak for it to work as a concert film.  There's not enough footage (and no interviews) with the star for it to work as a documentary, and the new projection footage is embarassingly bad.  The whole movie would sit comfortably as a bonus-disc companion to the concert DVD of the show, had it ever happened, so why would you pay money to go see this in a theater?  Early in the opening appears a title card that says "for the fans," and this statement is not to be taken lightly.  Unless you are they type that actually wept when you first heard of Jackson's death, and are just dying to see what kind of live performance he was about attempt and hear him say a few words to crew members, the film will almost certainly strike you as fluffy, overblown and most of all, boring.