Filmed during the rehearsal and sound-check stages of Michael Jackson’s ill-fated comeback tour of 2009, This Is It gives fans unprecedented access to the man and the music that defined a generation.
There have been countless ‘fly-on-the-wall’ music documentaries, but very few like this: released just three months after the music icon’s death, the grief was still raw for his faithful fans. Director (and personal friend of Jackson) Kenny Ortega boldly opts to not side with the star, and This Is It is very much on the fence about the man himself and simply letting the music do the talking. It’s not just the songs though: the spectacle that could have been is mesmerising, with elaborate sets and cutting edge technology which promised to wow audiences around the globe. These are presented separately, with each song having a different theme; some already established when the song was released (such as Thriller and its horror video, and Smooth Criminal with it’s Gangster tones), others having one added for the production. Each one appears to have the budget of a Hollywood Blockbuster, and with each one that’s shown, it becomes more tragic that this extravaganza never managed to open.
Michael Jackson’s performances are as energetic as a man half his age, with barely any signs of fatigue or exhaustion. His renditions of the song are sublime, with him frequently altering sections of songs to fit his artistic visions. His dance routines are as complex as ever, and again he exhibits incredible skill. There are a few occasions where he uses his persona to make demands, with the crew also referring to him as ‘sir’, but never does Jackson appear obnoxious or egotistical. Of course, there’s the possibility that Ortega has manipulated the film in such as way that it cuts out the arguments and falling out periods in what was undoubtedly a high pressure situation, but keeping them in would have been unnecessary anyway.
There’s no narrative to the documentary; instead, each song that would have been performed at the show gets a full rehearsal run through, sometimes with Michael in full costume. There are brief snippets from members of the backing band and a five minute segment on the auditions for the roles of backing dancers (with a more comprehensive look in the Special Features of the DVD) but this is very much Jackson’s show – and rightly so. The female guitarist gets a small section and it’s enough to showcase her talent, especially during the Beat It solo.
This Is It chronicles the creation of the concert that never was, and ultimately it becomes its own show. One can’t help but wonder, and no doubt many will grieve over, what could have been – a spectacle for the ages like no other performed by a musician who’s legacy will live forever.