Monday, November 02, 2009

REVIEW: This is It

Yes - I was wrong about This is It.

Succumbing to curiosity after some rave reviews came in, I did indeed see Michael Jackson's posthumous concert film  - and came away very impressed.

I had thought This Is It was an awfully blah, nondescript title, but recent history has given the title a resonance it did not have before. Simply put, the documentary proves Jackson still had "it" - and that, above all else, is reason enough for even a casual admirer like me to praise it.

As I stated previously, I was never a particular fan of Jackson's, even during his heyday, but I enjoyed Michael Jackson the Entertainer, and I missed him when he got subsumed by Michael Jackson the Sideshow. This Is It brings the entertainer to the fore and convinced me that the concerts would have gone a long way toward restoring the goodwill that had been lost over the last decade.

By its very nature, the documentary is an incomplete record of an incomplete show. The director is Kenny Ortega, a longtime collaborator of Jackson's who was the creative director of the concerts.  How he has been able to assemble this footage into something coherent in only a few months, and under the most dire of circumstances,  is amazing. I'm not sure the movie contains a single fully realized performance. Jackson often drops lyrics, either to save his voice or to concentrate on the choreography. And after all, this is entirely rehearsal footage - in a way, it's  like watching a long making-of documentary on a DVD without a corresponding feature. The experience is odd but often riveting.

At the same time, This is It has been overpraised to some extent. And that's understandable. That comes with the territory of a legendary person passing away, particularly when the death is untimely. Just as this movie showcases Jackson's extraordinary gifts, it also showcases his notable, foibles, particularly a tendency toward excess when he really didn't need it.

Sure, a big show is part and parcel of a Jackson concerts, and some numbers, like "Thriller," warrant some glitz. But the production number built around "Smooth Criminal," which intersperses black and white footage of Jackson among the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth? Ucch.  Such trickery didn't work when Fred Astaire danced with vacuum cleaner, and it doesn't work here.

And that flaw stands out because it's readily apparent that all Jackson really needed was his voice, which is in superb form throughout. When he leads a simple, touching rendition of "Human Nature," without razzmatazz, that's absolute magic. So is the closing performance of "Billie Jean," rough around the edges as it is. Jackson knows this and shyly says "At least we got a feel for it."

And that, in the end, is the best thing that can be said about This Is It. "At least we got a feel for it."  I, for one, am glad to have had this glimpse.

GRADE: B+


1 comment:

Kim said...

I was a fan of Michael's music - and of course his dancing talent is legendary - so I really wanted to see this film and I'm glad I did. I found myself glad - and somewhat amazed - that they had filmed all of that footage. It really did show a different side that we haven't seen for awhile - the way entertaining makes him light up. I found the behind the scenes from a major production like this so interesting - it was going to be more like a Broadway performance - no mere concert this! He is the one person besides Fred Astaire whose feet just didn't even seem to touch the ground when he danced. Amazing. It was great - loved it!