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Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/26/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/25/2010

When Michael Jackson died in June of last year, an unspoken question went around the world; Are you a Michael Jackson fan? For members of Generation X like myself, that's a moot question. The songs was Thriller were so ubiquitous that fan or not, you knew them by heart. Thus, Jackson's passing was both shocking and moving, again, even if you didn't consider yourself a fan. Michael Jackson's This Is It is a film which allows fans to say goodbye to a performer who managed to remain popular for decades.

In 2009, Michael Jackson planned an enormous comeback. After not having toured for over a decade, he announced a 50 performance stint at the O2 arena in London. To prepare for this undertaking, Jackson tapped his old friend, choreographer Kenny Ortega to oversee the massive production. Ortega and his crew took over the Staples Center in Los Angeles and constructed a stage. There, Jackson, along with a group of musicians and back-up dancers, begin to rehearse for the shows. Then, on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died, just weeks before the shows were to begin. Thus, the comeback tour never happened. However, Ortega had HD (mostly) cameras rolling throughout the rehearsal process so that he and Jackson could review them and as a souvenir for Jackson. Michael Jackson's This Is It allows us to look at that raw rehearsal footage and get a glimpse of what the show would have been like. The film features entire performances of many of Jackson's hits, such as "Beat It", "Billie Jean", "Human Nature", and "Thriller" (What? No "Bad"?) In between songs, we see the planning of the show, from background films to choreography to costumes. We also get a glimpse of Jackson always giving his input into every aspect of the show.

When I prepare to write a review, I always ask myself, "Was that a good movie?" Typically, the answer is evident (and it's often "no".) However, in the case of Michael Jackson's This Is It, I don't have an answer for that. Instead, two new questions must be asked, "Does the movie do what it set out to do?" and "Will this movie be what the audience expects/wants it to be?".

We'll now tackle that first question; Does the movie do what it set out to do? The answer here is yes. As I understand it, the basic purpose of Michael Jackson's This Is It was to allow fans to get a taste of what the "This Is It" show would have been. Again, some of the material here is quite raw in the sense that the dancers are often moving slower than they would in the performance and Jackson doesn't sing every word to every song. (He's also notably out-of-breath after some songs.) The songs are usually made of various rehearsals which have been cut together, so Jackson's clothing changes throughout the song. But, as the start date for the engagement was drawing near, much of the show was in-place. We get to see the mini-movies which were created to introduced "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller". The movie also contains interviews with Ortega and many of the crew members, as they discuss their experience working with Michael.

Now, on to what may be a more important question; Will this movie be what the audience expects/wants it to be? That answer is a bit cloudy. The Blu-ray Disc box states, "Discover the man you never knew". I don't think that happens here. There are several scenes where we get a fly-on-the-wall view of Jackson telling musicians what he wants or describing to Ortega that the music is too loud. (In a very weird way.) But, there are no on-camera interviews with Jackson and he seems to ignore the cameras. There is also no overview of where the rehearsals are taking place, how the show was financed, or what the deadline is -- this is simply the rehearsal footage. There is also no mention of Jackson's death in the film, and the entire movie takes place in the moment. (Much of this is rectified with the "Staging the Return" documentary found on the Disc.)

It's obvious that Michael Jackson's This Is It is being presented in a "This is how he'd want to be remembered" fashion and in that sense, the movie works. We get to see Michael Jackson doing what he loved, singing and dancing. And considering that he was 50, he's still an amazing performer, and although he's clearly going through the motions in some songs, he also proved that he still had passion for the music. For me, I was amazed at how many of the songs I not only recognized but knew very well. Say what you will about Jackson, he was an entertainer and this movie shows that.

Michael Jackson's This Is It has an unnecessarily creepy spider on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 (although, some of the footage is windowboxed at a non-anamorphic 1.85:1) and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. As HD cameras were used, the footage looks very good, displaying a notable crispness. The colors look very good, most notably bright ones, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. Well, we’re here for the music and it sounds fantastic here. From the opening of “Want to Be Startin’ Something”, I was blown away by the detail in this track. Individual instruments are discernible in the stereo and surround speakers. The sound isn’t muddy at all, and the stereo effects are great. Jackson’s voice is seldom overwhelmed by this. The subwoofer effects are great as well and the bass and drums are funneled directly to the LFE channel. During the interviews and planning scenes, the speakers are clear and audible.

The Michael Jackson's This Is It Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. The "Thriller Vignette" (4 minute) and "Smooth Criminal Vignette" (4 minutes) offer an un-interrupted look at these two mini-movies which were meant to be projected on a giant LCD screen during the show to introduce the respective songs. We get to see some of this in the movie, but it's nice to see them in their entirety. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is pretty good. "Making Smooth Criminal" (11 minutes) offers more behind-the-scenes footage of the creation of this short film. But, we get comments from the technical crew who work on the piece, who discuss it's conception and production. "Staging the Return" (40 minutes) answers many of the questions which come about while watching This Is It. This two-part documentary illustrates the planning and staging of the concerts. Through intervies and video footage, we see the amount of work which went into this. "The Gloved One" (15 minutes) focuses on the costumes created for the concert. We have comments from the fashion designers involved, and are allowed peeks at concept art and the finished pieces. "Memories of Michael" (16 minutes) allows those who were involved with the project to share their impressions of Jackson -- this was clearly made after his death. "Auditions: Searching for the World's Best Dancers" (10 minutes) continue the theme from the film's opening, as we watch the process of choosing the 11 dancers needed for the show. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long