On Second Thought: Michael Jackson – This Is It (2009)

In the genre of concert films, This Is It is an anomaly. Most others document a particular live performance or composite performances from a tour.

Michael Jackson doesn’t sing or dance or do anything in this film in front of a live audience.

Yet to watch him rehearse for what was to have been a scheduled 50-night residency at London’s O2 Arena is to appreciate — however vicariously — every detail and note of what could have been an extraordinary concert experience.

As someone who’d long prided himself not just on delivering an enjoyable performance but in creating an elaborate, exhilarating spectacle, Jackson understood that this production — his first such performances in over a decade — would have to be epic. He knew his singular reputation as a live performer was on the line. Yet the music legend comes across as if what he’s doing — choreographing steps for his backup dancers, directing (and correcting when necessary) his band through each song on the setlist, fine-tuning every conceivable visual and lighting cue — is all but routine. He’s the coolest cat in the room.

Time and again he’s seen calmly instructing his band or choreographing steps to a particular song only in the next moment to become so enlivened by his own music that he begins dancing and jumping around like he’s stomping out an inferno beneath his feet.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: As Michael Jackson’s face was reshaped, so was our image of him. It’s too bad: The music, in many ways, remained bigger than his missteps.]

In fact, much of what makes This is It so compelling is how unforced, unaffected, and in the moment Jackson appears throughout, whether he’s singing a gorgeous refrain to “Human Nature” or giving in to spontaneous, full-on workout of “Billie Jean” to the jaw-dropping astonishment of his star-struck dance troupe. The man worked harder than most to make what he did on the stage look seamless if not effortless, and certainly he possessed the talent to pull it off when it mattered. What’s evident here, though, is that he could deliver even when it didn’t.

Of course, no one will ever be able to say whether the O2 engagement would have lived up to the hype that had surrounded it before Jackson’s tragic death. However, if all you knew about his final days was the footage of him in this film, you’d have to believe it would’ve been an incredible comeback.

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Donald Gibson

The Something Else! Reviews webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, is syndicated through Bing News, Topix and AllAboutJazz.com. The site has been featured in The New York Times, NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, the NoDepression.com Americana site, Popdose.com and JazzTimes, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com, Rock.com, Blues Revue Magazine and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.