Anthony's Film Review
This Is It (2009)
If you're looking for a good documentary featuring Michael Jackson in his final days, this is it...
On June 25, 2009, the world was in for a terrible shock, when news broke that pop singer Michael Jackson was found unconscious and later pronounced dead. While the case would lead to investigation of a doctor who inappropriately prescribed sedative medications to Jackson, fans of MJ were only focused on one thing: coming to terms with the realization that the King of Pop, one of the world's greatest musicians, has left this world unexpectedly. Furthermore, people who bought tickets for MJ's upcoming This Is It tour, consisting of 50 planned concerts at the O2 Arena in London that would be his final on-stage appearance, would never get to see the show they eagerly anticipated. (And let's not forget what's really shocking: news of MJ's death greatly overshadowed the death of Farrah Fawcett, who had succumbed to cancer earlier that same day.)
It would not be long before someone conceived the idea of a feature-length documentary film using behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals for This Is It. Such a film would serve two purposes. One, to pay tribute to the late Michael Jackson (though without actually referencing his personal life or his death, which I believe was appropriate). Two, to provide a show for fans who had been looking forward to the London concert. So now, instead of a live concert called This Is It, we have a movie called This Is It. It's a combination of a backstage look at MJ's upcoming show and also a concert film substituting for the planned concert, though it's much more the latter than the former.
The first shot of the movie consists of narrative text that scrolls upward, explaining that Jackson had not performed live for a decade and that, in the spring of 2009, he was planning the This Is It tour for July of that year. It then goes to backstage footage from mid-April 2009 in which various dancers express their joy and honor about being part of Jackson's show. This leads to footage of rehearsals for the This Is It tour and also auditions of dancers from all over the world to be part of this grand spectacle.
This should give you a good idea of what this film presents. It has the look and feel of any music documentary, with behind-the-scenes clips of dancing, music, and on-stage effects. Whenever the footage shows a segment of what would be part of the final performance, it's not as polished as the final product. However, it's not far off from a perfect show. Watching parts of the concert in rehearsal comes close to watching the live show as Jackson himself envisioned. If you are a die-hard Michael Jackson fan, you'll definitely love this.
Even if you are not a big MJ fan, it's OK. It's still fun to watch him sing and dance the way he does, even if the audience is just the off-stage crew making sure that every detail of the show is accounted for. It's also nice to see the backup dancers moving in unison alongside MJ and voices from off-stage reminding them what to do at certain key points of the performance. Besides the singing and dancing, there are elaborate preparations to make the show even grander. For example, MJ films a short black-and-white 1940s-style gangster film that would be used as part of his performance of the song "Smooth Criminal." Later, for the song "Thriller," the crew shoot horror footage and prepare skeletons that will be flown through the audience aisles.
There are some interesting things about the film's style I would like to note. Like any music documentary, the footage is telling the story. There's no voiceover narrator, and it's not necessary anyway. When the screen fades to black and fades in to another scene, we know that it means we're done watching one part of the planned This Is It show and proceeding to the next. Also, the film may show footage from multiple rehearsal sessions on the same song, such that it switches from one to another while still presenting a single song from beginning to end. It's a rather nice touch.
This Is It works as both a nice behind-the-scenes look at MJ's final show and a concert film that substitutes, even in rehearsal form, for the planned live show that became impossible after his unexpected death. By movie standards, it's pretty good. By music standards, it's pretty good, too. Many of MJ's greatest hits are featured here, so fans will definitely get a taste of their favorite Michael Jackson songs. As for the rest of us who are not as familiar with MJ as the fans, it's still a satisfying film about music, from the opening narrative text to a final dedication for the King of Pop (and also for his children, after the closing credits).
For more information about This Is It, visit the Internet Movie Database.