The hype surrounding Michael Jackson's This Is It has been so huge that even a casual fan such as myself bought tickets literally the minute they became available a month ago. I can be a slave to buzz. ("Buzz, you want me to bend over and take it like a man...? Okay!") That's good news for my friends, who are way bigger Michael Jackson fans than I.
This Is It is not a biography—no history, no backstory, and little context is to be found. This Is It is not maudlin—the craziness surrounding the King of Pop's death never comes into play, and tribute interviews have no place here. This Is It is not a freakshow—though you get a taste of some of Jackson's eccentricities, his most bizarre behavior and the scandals he's been embroiled in are not seen or mentioned. Very simply, This Is It is a concert film. A concert film full of showstoppers. And it's unlike any concert film I have ever seen.
The performances here—of Jackson's greatest hits—are a patchwork of rehearsal footage, capturing the entertainer preparing for his sold-out concerts in London, which of course never came to be. What audiences are treated to is a rare glimpse into Jackson's creative process—indeed, there is occasional stopping and starting in between songs, as Jackson and his collaborators work through the show. These breaks underscore Jackson's perfectionism and highlight his intense involvement in and deep knowledge of every aspect of the production, a production that looks like it intended to be pretty much the greatest concert of all time.
If you don't like Michael Jackson's music at all, you're going to suffer through this movie. But even if you're a fair-weather fan like me, I'm sure you'll be impressed at how, at 50-years-old and in rehearsal mode (in which he's not always at 100%), Jackson is still able to deliver the voice and the dance moves that will thrill you, stir your soul, and sometimes make your jaw drop.
This Is It is not only a remarkable testament to Michael Jackson's talent, but, thanks to the smart assembly of footage by director Kenny Ortega (who helped the High School Musical franchise take over the universe), This Is It is a film that gets you thinking about artists and the act of creation, about the nature of collaboration, about the dedication it takes to hone one's craft, and, yes, about mortality. But, again, it's not melancholy. It's a celebration. And some of these musical numbers will absolutely floor you.