By Sandra Kraisirideja
Judging from the rehearsal footage of “Michael Jackson’s This is It,” the concert would have been a spectacular showcase for Jackson’s music. The audience during the Tuesday preview screening could hardly contain themselves after each song, clapping and cheering wildly as if they were witnessing the final concert rather than just rough dress rehearsals and sound checks.
This is the power of Jackson as a performer. His voice and incredible dance prowess are thrilling to watch even when he’s dressed down and just fooling around on stage. His presence as a performer is undeniable and the movie confirms that he deserved the title of King of Pop.
Director Kenny Ortega, who was serving as choreographer for the concert, combed through hours of backstage interviews and rehearsal footage for “Michael Jackson’s This is It.” Subtitles at the start of the movie explain the footage was being shot for Jackson’s personal archive and for the concert.
Ortega has created more of a “making of” concert movie than a documentary that reflects upon Jackson the performer. That will probably be the subject of another movie because Jackson’s legacy certainly could support multiple books and films celebrating his contribution to American music.
The movie focuses mostly on Jackson’s performance, but there are interviews with the musicians, singers and dancers who shared the stage with him. The movie may be a memorial to Jackson, but the footage is more in the moment. The interviewees talk about working with Michael, but as they knew him at the time, not as they remembered him.
There is little mention of Jackson’s death in fact, except for a brief message at the end of the movie. Ortega has struck the right tone by concentrating on Jackson the performer and sharing the excitement everyone involved with the show felt during the rehearsals. There are even light moments of humor.
Jackson’s songs provide a path for the movie as the narrative moves from one song to the next. Jackson was going to mostly perform his number one hits, of which there were plenty, with a few of his more intimate songs to reinforce his message of saving the planet and loving one another.
The songs as they would have been performed in the concert are shown in varying degrees of completion in the movie. Some songs were changed slightly for effect or to add theatricality. “The Way You Make Me Feel” is slowed down and given a more sultry treatment. The setting for the song is a construction site with the dancers dressed in overalls and hard hats.
For “Smooth Criminal” Jackson shot new movie footage, inserting himself into Rita Hayworth’s “Gilda,” for his character’s chase scene, which culminates with him bursting through a glass window and appearing on stage. Special effects footage was also filmed for “They Don’t Care About Us,” which involved multiplying the dancers dressed as RoboCop-esque soldiers from 10 to millions on screen.
The highlight of the concert would have been “Thriller,” which was updated for 2009 with 3D footage of zombies and monsters crawling out of a graveyard. Intricate ghost puppets were going to drift down the aisles in the audience. From the looks of the partial dress rehearsal that is shown, the performance would have been unforgettable.
“Michael Jackson’s This is It” is a celebration of Jackson and the power of his music. It is a reminder of his immense talent and is sure to inspire a new generation of fans.