Who's In It: Michael Jackson
The Basics: Michael Jackson rehearses for what was going to be his comeback world tour. But it's not a concert film. And the movie allows you to adjust your expectations right from the beginning as you see him practicing dance moves, stopping and starting numbers and, most importantly, holding back on the singing. He drops entire verses from songs or frequently doesn't sing at full strength in order to conserve his voice, allowing the back-up singers to fill in the blanks. But then, out of the blue, he lets loose and drops that first "HOOOO-HOOOOO!" into a break in the song somewhere. Suddenly you're elated and sad all at once.
What's The Deal: To quote the awesome writer Cintra Wilson here: "...mega-mega-mega fame trained the deadly blue heat of its X-ray eye on young Jackson and stared him crispy." And because of that crispiness, anyone who wasn't a superfan had stopped staring a while ago because it was too disturbing to witness. It was hard to listen to "I Want You Back" without thinking of all the external evidence of what appeared to be a ruined life. But the equation of death plus this movie--where we get to see the most human being-like version of Jackson captured on film since forever--will allow a lot of people to love him again without feeing weird about it.
Best Parts: As filmmaking goes, it's one long DVD extra, so don't expect everything to look amazing all the time. The best production values involve the new footage that was going to be part of the concert itself, like a weird "Smooth Criminal" video where Jackson is green-screened into old black-and-white movies and an elaborate 3-D "Thriller" bit (not 3-D for you, though) with dancers in new monster costumes. And then there's the incredible dancing, which they thankfully decided not to alter when it was something iconic. So the "Beat It" rumble is just how you remember it and the "Thriller" dance is the same one performed by German flash mobs, inmates in Filipino prisons and Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30. I also really loved the split-second where they projected Elizabeth Taylor's face onto the body of a huge robot.
But Still A Little Bit Awkward: The press screening audience didn't know if they were supposed to applaud after the non-performances of the half-songs. So some people did. And then others did out of peer pressure.