It's no secret that Michael Jackson owed a lot of money when he died—and lots of people wanted to get paid. Chief among those were the folks putting together Jackson's London-based concert series, a 50-date engagement dubbed "This Is It!" It was supposed to be a big payday for creditors, as well as Jackson's triumphant artistic return.
In the end, "This Is It!" went from being a spectacular live show to the bizarre film in theaters now. This is a rushed cash-in, largely featuring footage of Jackson rehearsing that's been cobbled together to create the strangest of concert films. We see Jackson working with director Kenny Ortega to craft a show featuring all of the big Jackson hits and a massive multimedia presentation, including 3-D screens and multilevel staging.
This film is not something Michael Jackson would've wanted us to see. There are many moments when, even in the process of rehearsing, Jackson shines as a performer, but most of the numbers include him understandably half-assing it so that the singer could preserve his voice.
There are plenty of signs in this footage that these rehearsals would wind up being Jackson's final days. Jackson appears gaunt and obviously tired. Some of his backstage banter is merely incomprehensible mumbling (subtitled so we can understand what he is saying). There are moments when he gets excited, but, for the most part, he comes off as dazed. This makes certain moments, such as his beautiful vocal solo during a take of "I'll Be There," quite remarkable. He certainly lights up when it comes to the music.
It is interesting to watch Jackson putting the pieces together for his show. He apologizes profusely every time he disagrees a bit with the director, and mildly chastises his fellow performers when they egg him on to have bigger vocal moments. The man clearly did more than walk on stage, take orders and perform by the numbers.
Footage of Jackson interacting with images of Humphrey Bogart for "Smooth Criminal" and a new rendition of "Thriller" that plays like Disney's Haunted Mansion indicate that this would've been a fun concert. There was even a segment dedicated to the Jackson 5. The show itself, while clearly motivated by the need to pay bills, has the look of something that would've been a major treat.
But the resultant film is not a major treat. It seems patched together quickly, and shoddily, to make a quick buck. Seeing Jackson in this condition, doing stuff he probably shouldn't have been doing because of his physical and mental state, feels dirty. His death is proof of his inability to handle the situation he'd put himself in.
This movie doesn't stand as proof that Michael Jackson could've physically pulled off his long London engagement. Much of the performances are edited together from different days, and nothing really plays from beginning to end. For all we know, Jackson could only rehearse for minutes at a time before collapsing on a cot somewhere. Through it all, there is a pervading feeling that Jackson, while not completely miserable, would have rather been doing something else. He definitely seems exhausted.
Let's face it: Most of what we are seeing in This Is It isn't good enough to make the special features on a DVD. This movie has me thinking that a lot of performers will now prohibit cameras and filming during dress rehearsals for big shows, especially if they live fast-paced or drug-drenched lifestyles.
In the end, This Is It is not the dazzling entertainment spectacle Jackson hoped to deliver. Instead, it's a chronicle of a desperate man falling apart, yet still managing a few sparkling moments before fading away. His performance of "Human Nature" might be decent considering the circumstances, but overall, this is a morbid and unfortunate experience.
Still, people need to get paid.