It's been more than a decade since the King of Pop -- who fell out of favor with the media and many fans due to scandal, controversy, and his eccentricities -- toured, and when he announced in March 2009 that he was launching his final concert series, there was speculation that he would be too weak to perform. So while the idea of a frail, drugged, aging performer onscreen rehearsing seems daunting -- even macabre -- this concert film provides a look at Michael Jackson the performer, free from the tragedy surrounding his life and death. With This Is It, director Kenny Ortega (High School Musical 2 and 3) gives the audience a rare behind-the-scenes look at rehearsals for Jackson's concert that would have kicked off this summer at London's O2 arena. The moment you see Michael Jackson on-stage, you relax into the idea that you're watching a performer who never lost his energy, drive, or talent. All of the ugliness fades away, and what you're left with is a journey through the Michael Jackson music catalog, soaring past his days with the Jackson 5, cascading down through the hits that span several decades, and settling into a musical adventure.
Ortega, creative partner and director of the "This Is It" show, pieces together production and rehearsal footage to form a cohesive picture that tells two stories. There's Jackson the visionary, who has very specific ideas for what this feast-for-the-senses experience would look like, from the pyrotechnics to the elaborate set pieces to the updated "Thriller" graveyard sequence, complete with prosthetic makeup and 3D technology. It's interesting to see how this over-the-top spectacle was set into motion, but the most intriguing aspect of this story lies in the rehearsal footage. Nothing compares to seeing Jackson perform on-stage; though he's clearly holding back both vocally and otherwise, the effect is astonishing and also bittersweet.
This Is It is more than a film about the development and execution of a stage production -- it's also a portrait of a man who represents the embodiment of a true artist. Onscreen, Jackson was always the consummate professional. From the opening moments of the film, Ortega interviews dancers -- some giddy, some emotional, and some downright in tears -- from all around the world whose dreams have come true because they're performing with their idol. Jackson guides them through the choreography with tough love and humor, and the dancers, like starstruck schoolchildren, soak up every word. The same holds true for the musicians and backup vocalists, who are eager to take direction to achieve the pitch-perfect performance that a perfectionist like Jackson demands, not out of obligation or fear, but out of respect.
This Is It is definitely for the fans; whether you were charmed by the adorable kid from the Jackson 5, captivated by his incredible dance moves, or touched by his voice, the film speaks to those who are still in mourning over the passing of a pop icon who touched thousands of adoring fans and influenced a generation of performers. ~ Alaina O'Connor, Rovi