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Laramie Movie Scope:
Michael Jackson's This is It

The final days of the king, sequel to follow

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 3, 2009 -- Rehearsals for the late Michael Jackson's comeback concert series in London form the heart of this movie made to cash in on Jackson's post-mortem popularity. It isn't a bad concert film. Jackson gives spirited performances for a man of 50 who hadn't been on stage in years and whose voice and feet were not what they once were. This could have been a poignant film if it wasn't so obviously exploitative. As warped a person Jackson was, he deserved better. It's got a story, it's got music, it even has a hero, but what it lacks is soul. Maybe someday a more appropriate film will be made about him, but I wouldn't hold my breath. A sequel to “Michael Jackson's This is It,” based on material unused in the first film, is reportedly already in the works.

Compared to to Michael Jackson, even Elvis Presley had a fairly normal life. Elvis had a more normal childhood, while Jackson has been fodder for popular gossip mills since the age of six, when he became the lead singer for the Jackson Five. Since then, he's had no privacy and no real opportunity to develop into a man. His sexuality has been in question for most of his adult life as the nation's best-known pedophile. He never got the chance to live down that label. The most-publicized attempt to reform his image was the memorial service on July 7, 2009 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Over 30 million watched on TV. That didn't stop the questions about his death (officially ruled a homicide) or his sexuality, or his strained relationship with his father or his excessive use of plastic surgery or his addiction to prescription drugs. Others have even come forward to claim they are the real biological parents of his children. The investigation into his untimely death continues.

Against this bizarre background, we have “This is It,” a pseudo documentary backstage concert film directed by Kenny Ortega, best known for his “High School Musical” TV shows and movies. Ortega was also a Jackson collaborator, and was in charge of the overall concert design. He appears repeatedly in the film. The film shows Michael Jackson completely in charge of arrangements for his sold-out series of 50 concerts in London. He picks the dancers and shows them the steps. He critiques the musicians, the lighting, the stage effects. He is on the ball. He is a perfectionist, but seems easy going in his collaborations with musicians, singers, choreographers, dancers and stage technicians. The film gives the viewer a sense of what it is like to set up a big concert and what it is like to rehearse for one.

A great deal of deference is given to Jackson in this film. He is the King of Pop and is practically worshiped by the dancers and singers who share the stage with him. The film starts out with interviews of the dancers, who all say that Jackson inspired them. Some of the singers say the same thing in interviews. We see Michael Jackson in his creative element in this film, fussing about every detail of the concert. If, however, you want to find out what is behind that surgically-altered face, or inside the heart now stilled forever, it is nowhere to be found in this film. The inner Michael Jackson is locked away and hidden. In this film we see only one side of the bizarre pop star.

The film features performances of a wide variety of Jackson's music, including some of his early hits with the Jackson Five, his biggest solo hits, “Don't Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Beat It,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller,” and new songs. An elaborate new version of “Thriller” is featured in the film, especially produced for the concert series. An elaborate, environmentally-themed video, meant to be a part of the concert series accompanying “Earth Song” concludes with a full-sized bulldozer on stage which Jackson stops before it crushes a young girl. This same young girl appears again at the end of the film, after the main credits have rolled by, along with other additional scenes, so don't leave early. Other elaborate video productions were meant to be part of the concert series, which looked to be spectacular, if somewhat dated in design. Jackson appears to be rehearsing at something at less than full speed. He was probably in the process of working himself back into shape after his 12-year concert hiatus.

What is the legacy of the King of Pop? While this film proclaims This is It, it is not. There is no sense of finality in it. This film, for all its feigned reverence for Jackson, is just an early stage in the post-mortem exploitation of the man and the myth, along with the “This is It” album released on the same week the film opened. Jackson isn't the first man so exploited and he won't be the last. He is simply the biggest star of his era who may be worth more dead than alive. What would the real Michael Jackson think of all this? Who knows, but I really do think he'd like this film. It shows a very strong comeback for a dead guy. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)