There’s only going to be two camps concerning the new Michael Jackson documentary: those who will absolutely love it and those who wouldn’t go to see it except under penalty of death. A scroll at the start of the movie reminds us most of the footage about to be seen was culled from footage not meant to be seen by the public but was for Jackson’s private library. And that lack of quality shows.
What little quality cinematography there is comes from the short films that were made to be projected behind the stage, but that only adds up to a few minutes. The remaining footage is one step up from your uncle’s home movies, shot by what appears to be rank amateurs who don’t understand how shooting footage of someone in close proximity of a spotlight might wash out the rest of the images. Or how, when one is filming a singer who is also known as a fabulous dancer who choreographs every second of his live shows precisely down to every beat, one might actually want to make sure his legs and feet are kept in frame. And why does the footage go from color to black and white for no good aesthetic reason on more than one occasion?
If you’ve ever been to a major concert in the past twenty-five years or so, you’re probably familiar with the throbbing sound of the bass and drums dominating the mix, making sure everyone not just hears the music but feels it. It’s not much difference here. A proper musical documentary would have been much more careful about the sound mix, but since most of this footage comes from rehearsals, it’s unlikely sound was a major concern at the time. Very few people could have suspected during those spring months Jackson and his team were rehearsing that we would be here, less than six months later, examining the final weeks of his life.
To be certain, the thousands of Jackson fans who packed the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles for the World Premiere tonight were witnessing something truly special, to them. They wanted this one last moment with their idol, and their wish was granted. All the major hits are included, and many of the signature moves are displayed… expect for, strangely enough, the one he is best known for. During “Billie Jean,” there are two moments where it appears he is about to do it but ends up just miming it, so when he finally does maybe two steps, the crowd is satiated.
It would have also been nice to spend more time with the singers, dancers and musicians who were helping to make Jackson’s comeback and farewell shows as memorable as possible. We see a little bit of Orianthi Panagaris, the
young female guitarist who leapt to fame earlier this year backing up Carrie Underwood at the Grammys, but even less of Tommy Organ, the other guitarist in the band who shreds his axe even better than the cute blonde from Australia. We get a few moments with some of the dancing hopefuls at the start of the film, and a moment with one of the singers towards the end, but that is not who the fans came to see, so getting to see the other talents might have to wait for the DVD.
Very few will argue Michael Jackson was anything less than a genuine talent, and from all appearances the O2 shows could have been something special, but there is no getting around the fact that “This Is It” is a crass bit of marketing, meant to help those who were to gain much from Jackson’s London shows get back as much as possible from their investment. One can only hope Jackson’s environmental message during “What About Us?” will drive many of his fans to rethink how they treat the planet and its resources. It would make this bloated, plodding mess of a documentary a little more palpable.Rating: D+