Top of the UK box office. The biggest concert movie ever – though it’s really a rehearsal movie.
Like the sell-out of his 50 proposed 02 Arena shows last year, This Is It’s success says plenty about audiences’ desire to see Michael Jackson’s reputation re-aligned with talent rather than tittle-tattle. Ignore the temptations of ghoulish voyeurism and his tabloid-proof crowd-pulling power can’t help but impress.
Granted, show director Kenny Ortega’s film won’t exactly starve Jacko-doubters for cynicism-stoking material. Set-pieces to rouse your inner Jarvis include the eco-message of ‘Earth Song’, literally delivered by bulldozer. Cheese to choke on bookends the film: dancers open with a gush, and MJ gas-bags about saving the planet near the close, messiah complex holding firmer than his features.
But his moves, musicality and voice can still grab a spotlight. Jackson is holding back for the actual shows and he looks gaunt – but as he glides gracefully across the stage and lets that falsetto flutter on ‘Human Nature’, 50 years of wear’n’tear register only in a stiff hand-flapping move.
The backing spectacle shoulders much weight, ghosts spooking the aisles for ‘Thriller’ and Jacko gate-crashing film-noir footage for ‘Smooth Criminal’. But the bits where he sings alone and micro-manages his team (“With love. L.O.V.E.”) show passion and precision, providing poignancy for Jacko-lytes and flashes of interest for non-fans.
What of the tagline, though? “Discover the man you never knew”? That’s the rub. One extra here reveals a crystal-covered suit Jacko was to wear, its reflecting jewels a near-synonym for sycophantic, surface-only access. Ortega handles MJ like he’s tap-dancing on eggs: when Jacko ascends the crowd-combing ‘cherry-picker’, Ortega gets so excited, you’d think God was descending for tea.
Extras extend the arms-length sucking-up, Ortega’s comparison of MJ to “an angel walking the planet” churning stomachs at 10 paces. With eulogies before insight, we get only partially interesting glimpses of the stage’s assemblage. The featurettes on dancers, band and vocalists add meat, and there are a few Blu exclusives, including the full vignettes for ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Thriller’, plus the now-mandatory MovieIQ option.
Even if some of the extras go a gush too far, Ortega’s occasionally affecting film is worthwhile. It can’t shake the sense that “this” won’t be “it”: more material will follow, either to milk MJ or dig under the myth. In the meantime, there’s room for a film that at least tries to put his songs (and a little spectacle) before scandal. For better or worse, this is that.
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