Equal parts morbid cash-in, breathless greatest hits tribute and tantalizing sneak preview of a landmark concert tour that never came to be, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It is a fitting send-off for the mysteriously departed musical monarch.
Anyone expecting an even-handed look at Jackson or speculation as to what Jackson’s personal life was like in his last days will be disappointed, but those looking for confirmation that Jacko still had command of his talents despite his physical, financial and emotional warping will be moonwalking in delight.
High School Musical director Kenny Ortega applies his rah-rah Disney showmanship to the film, which opening titles say was originally planned as behind-the-scenes footage to be used at the planned show and saved for Jackson’s archives. When Jackson died of a drug overdose earlier this year, the show perished with him, but the movie lives on.
The film, which boasts the full endorsement of the Jackson family (read: there’s nothing even remotely negative about the man here) looks suspiciously well-produced and sketched out. You’re only seeing exactly what Jackson wanted you to see, which is the musician in top form, hardly missing a beat as he obsesses over production details, belts out all his classics and whips his gaunt body around in improbably brilliant dance steps.
The real stars of the show are the sets. There’s a 3-D graveyard for “Thriller,” a CGI-animated army of millions of dancing soldiers for “They Don’t Care About Us” and blazing pyrotechnics, shifting stage pieces and hordes of glitzy backup dancers for other songs.
If you don’t eat up all of Jackson’s old stuff, you may find the movie monotonous, and as strong and exuberant as Jackson is in his performances, there’s something disconcerting about seeing him as such a gaunt mockery of his 1980s visage. But the movie entertains and sometimes awes, just like its subject.
Starring Michael Jackson. Directed by Kenny Ortega. 112 minutes. Rated PG.
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