Who’s In It: Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega
The Basics: As he was rehearsing for a sold-out 50-concert showcase in June, pop icon Michael Jackson suffered a sudden fatal heart attack and passed away on the eve of what would have been a major career comeback. Luckily for fans, the troubled King of Pop had a camera crew documenting rehearsals that had captured over 100 hours of behind the scenes footage. The result, amazingly, is a rush edit that transforms intimate practice scenes and dazzling set pieces into a powerful feature-length glimpse into Jackson’s final days. What’s more, the concert documentary hints that MJ might have actually reclaimed a fraction of the worldwide fan love he’d once had if he’d lived to moonwalk across the stage at London’s O2 Arena as planned.
What’s The Deal: Unless you’re one of those freakishly super hardcore fans, you probably wrote Michael Jackson off as a kooky weirdo a while back. (I’m not even talking about the child abuse allegations. Who names a baby “Blanket??”) So wherever he is, MJ should be thankful that as a final legacy to the man and performer, This Is It humanizes him better than a sold-out concert ever could have. Watching the frail but still hyperactive Jackson soldier through his grueling stage show in an obviously weakened state, you feel his desperation to pull the whole thing off. And yet, even at 50 years old, he still had it: the moves, the voice, the presence.
So That's Why He Was Pumping The Meds: Given the film’s evidence of how hard Jackson was pushing himself in rehearsals in his final days, it’s no wonder his over-medicated heart gave out. His vocal strength may have been a shadow of what it once was (in one scene, Jackson belts a duet with back-up singer Judith Hill, then chastises her and Ortega for letting him strain his voice), but it’s clear Jackson was giving 110 percent of himself to the show. And so, This Is It not only serves as a fitting tribute to the fallen idol, but as a tragic explanation for why he passed away right on the brink of triumph.
Special Moments: Ever the perfectionist, Jackson gently guides musical director Michael Bearden to just the right “simmer” for his jazzy, slowed down “The Way You Make Me Feel.” In a nice surprise moment, he breaks into an impromptu a cappella excerpt of “Human Nature” during a microphone check. When frustrated, he ends missives with the mantra “With Love” and you can feel every one of his crew and band “family” members glowing with awe and affection even as they hustle to give Jackson exactly what he demands.
Sad Moments Galore: Watching MJ struggle during “I Want You Back,” you can’t help but think of the emotional scars he suffered in his youth. Did he forgive father Joe, whom he names along with the rest of his family in a loving soliloquy, for robbing him of a childhood? Did he really fancy himself a freedom fighter of sorts, as in his elaborately staged “They Don’t Care About Us” number? In his darkest moments, MJ probably wished he had an army of dancing supporters to have his back.
Even Sadder For Fans: Never mind the elaborately-staged, neo-We Are the World numbers he had planned; This Is It the tour would have shown fans an entirely new, 3D version of “Thriller” – and watching this film is the closest you’ll ever get to seeing it.