In many ways, the title of the film describes it best: “This Is It.”
This is a glimpse of what could have been. This is a concert film about a comeback concert that never was. This is a tribute to one of the greatest performers of all time and the King of Pop, the late Michael Jackson.
But “This Is It” is so much more than that.
Kenny Ortega’s film is a look at the process of a detail-oriented, micromanaging musician who knew exactly how he wanted every song to be performed, from the backing vocals and keyboards to the elaborate choreography.
With the help of a “few cameras” as the film’s opening scene describes it, Ortega (“High School Musical 3”) allows fans young and old to discover a side of Jackson that had previously been seen only by those he has worked with in the past.
As Jackson puts it near the end of the film, it “takes people places they’ve never seen before” and “shows them talent like they’ve never seen before.”
But what makes the film much better than most would have expected is Jackson himself.
The way he works with everyone to perfect every little detail is incredible, and he does it all without so much as raising his voice. To see Jackson help his dancers refine their moves is to watch arguably the greatest of all time teach his craft to the next generation.
“This Is It” is Jackson at his finest. It is him giving all he has to put together the best concert he possibly can for his fans, because it is as he said, “the final curtain call.”
For the 112-minute runtime of the movie, it is hard to believe the man who is the center of attention died just days later. It never really seems like this is it.
This is perhaps because Jackson, despite appearing relatively weak, performs better than anyone could have expected. Throughout the rehearsals, Jackson more than keeps up with his much younger and well-trained dance crew.
When interviewed, the young dance crew also reminds the audience why the film was made in the first place: because Jackson truly is the King of Pop. Fans all over the world adore him, including those he chose to work with him for the tour.
Despite the small number of cameras, or perhaps because of it, Ortega’s film transitions seamlessly from on-stage rehearsal footage, backstage vocal work and accompanying film vignettes intended as original pieces for the concert.
Among the vignettes filmed for the concert were a shootout between Jackson and Humphrey Bogart through impressive special effects and a new version of “Thriller,” complete with 3D.
Performances of many of his biggest songs are included — “Smooth Criminal,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” among others — and the result is a movie that plays out like any other concert film rather than as a documentary. The only difference is Jackson’s audience is his supporting cast, rather than thousands of screaming fans.
Certainly, “This Is It” shows just how great Jackson’s final 50 concerts could have been, but it is actually the title track that best explains the movie. Jackson sings, “This is it/ Here I stand/ I’m the light of the world/ I feel grand.”
It’s evident to everyone watching that Jackson is in his element standing on stage, and there is nowhere else he would rather be. And when he runs through “Man In The Mirror” in front of the dance crew as a sound check, Jackson sounds as good as he ever has.
Ortega’s film is by no means simply a documentary about Jackson’s final days.
It is the final show of the greatest performer of all time, whose life was defined by his music and who lived to sing and dance.
4 1/2 stars out of 5.