Don't Miss Michael Jackson's 'This is It'
Go see “This is It” while you can, even if -- perhaps especially if -- you are not a Michael Jackson fan. Seeing him for yourself allows you to get to know the man, not the media image of him, which is pretty far from the more talented reality.
And seriously, this is a really interesting film. It’s not a biography of his life. There is no cheesy narration. It’s a recreation, from rehearsal footage, of the concert he was preparing, and seeing this made me wish he’d lived long enough to deliver it to audiences.
The film opens with a scene that appears to have been shot just after the final cast had been named. Teary and emotional performers express how they’ve watched Michael Jackson since childhood, and how amazing they feel knowing they’ll be sharing a stage with him.
And wow, do those performers deserve to share the stage with the King of Pop. In one sequence, as good as Michael was, my eye kept getting drawn to the two men shadowing his moves from behind, so strong was there dancing. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
For most of the numbers, Michael is “marking” his performance -- not singing full out, sometimes barely singing at all, just rehearsing the steps, the blocking the timing of events relative to special effects.
And watching him in action, one realizes that he truly was a genius performer. He knew which moments to end quickly, which ones to stretch, how to let a moment “simmer” -- something his technical crew had trouble understanding, but something any other good performer would understand instantly.
Michael had impeccable timing. There’s a reason he sold so many records. He was a true artist when it came to performing, and you don’t have to like his music to appreciate his expertise in this arena.
The film offers compelling behind-the-scenes looks at some of the special effects that were to have been involved. Early on, for example, the audience learns, along with the performers, the difference between “elevator speed” and “toaster speed.”
Square platforms cut into the stage, powered by hydraulics, either raise or “pop” performers onto the stage, depending on the speed of the platform’s rise.
Several small movies were created in conjunction with the show, which the live performers would interact with in different ways.
One number decries the deforestation of the rain forest via a young girl who falls asleep in a Garden of Eden spot, only to awake later with a bulldozer ready to uproot the last plant in the garden. As the film climaxes, a real bulldozer appears on stage, ready to chomp down on Michael.
In another number, ten performers have been digitally multiplied into 10,000 marching soldiers as the lyric cries out, “All I really know is that they don’t really care about us.” The film and song present a strong anti-war message, complete with a snippet of a Martin Luther King speech.
Jackson’s cast is multiracial, and gorgeous. His musicians were the best of the best. And director Kenny Ortega, who may have become most famous for directing and choreographing “High School Musical,” shows his own creativity and sensitivity, always suggesting things, never taking offense if Michael wanted to do it a different way.
No smart person would argue with a guy who has sold so many millions of records. Kenny shows he understands when to push and when to back off, revealing a level of emotional maturity most people can only hope to aspire to.
The film’s title has many meanings, as the audience will learn throughout the film. When Michael introduced his tour, he told people, in terms of his own performing career, “This is It.”
The show was meant to be his last big public performance extravaganza. When the show reaches the segment regarding the need to stop global warming, “This is It” means we don’t have another planet, and if we don’t turn the current situation around, we may never have another chance. This is it.
Toward the end of the show, Michael talks of the importance of loving each other. This is it, the thing we all need most in our lives. Love, spelled L.O.V.E., Michael reminds his cast in a preparatory moment.
The film “This is It” is not just for Michael Jackson fans, although fans will certainly enjoy it. But the story is much bigger than that, starting with an unraveling of myths about the man.
There is nothing freakish about the man, nothing crazy about him. He was not emaciated or starving to death. You’ll see instead, a shy but brilliant artist, with a strong point of view, whose sensibilities are such that he insists key moments in the show wait for a cue on him.
And finally, if you do like his music, you’ll really enjoy some of the new twists and bends Michael was giving to old classics. The upbeat song “The Way You Make Me Feel” opens not with a peppy beat, but in a languid, hot-summer-day sort of rhythm.
Michael leans on his musical director to lay even further off the beat to convey that “just got out of bed” feeling he’s trying to impart. The results are often miraculous.
Although I always personally liked dancing to his music, I wouldn’t have really considered myself a fan. But that was then.
Having seen him in action, I appreciate what he brought to our world more than ever, and am doubly sorry he was taken from us too soon.
“This is It” is set for only one more week of release, as Sony was trying to rush the DVDs out by Christmas. But the movie theater owners revolted, and begged for a bigger window between the in-theater release and the DVD release.
There’s a chance the run might be extended. But don’t wait. This is one of the few films you really should see on the biggest screen you can find. It’s the only way to enjoy this performer who was truly larger than life.
Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era. She is also a movie buff.
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