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Directed by Kenny Ortega
There’s no mention of Michael Jackson‘s death in This Is It — not even dates under his photo in the closing-credits dedication. But even if director Kenny Ortega had chosen to acknowledge the King of Pop’s passing, it’d still be easy to forget the fact while watching this extraordinary and eye-opening cobble of footage shot during rehearsals for Jackson’s fatefully named tour.
The last decade or so has framed Michael as an alleged pedophile and frail freak, the butt of jokes and scorn whose decision to perform 50 shows in London this year seemed a desperate attempt to dig himself out of bankruptcy. The truth of his past, however, feels irrelevant in light of the truth shown in this film: By the time the tour was gelling, the Weird One had left the building.
Ortega, who was also the show’s director, generously filled the nearly two-hour This Is It with mostly performance footage. Of course, there are snippets of interviews with Jackson’s dancers, musicians, and other crew, all of whom gush (and occasionally tear up, even before his death) about the opportunity.
And even viewers whose fandom has grown latent will quickly see why. Jackson looks thin but hardly feeble. His feet were still fluid, his voice still silky. The precision of his choreography is astounding. (When asked how he’ll be able to respond to a visual cue if his back is turned, he hardly waits a beat before saying, “I gotta feel it. I’ll feel it.” You believe him.) And when anything was off, he’d try it again and again, never hesitating to hammer out details that would seem minuscule to us commoners.
The film’s arguably more impressive achievement, though, is showing a Jackson who’s human — and likable. He was often funny and unfailingly kind, whether correcting someone or coaxing his 24-year-old lead guitarist, “It’s your time to shine.” This is the oxygen-tank-sleeping chimp lover?
With the tour’s debut only a couple of weeks away when Jackson died, this footage also showcases the show’s elaborate set pieces, including a 3D film and floating ghost-brides and -grooms to accompany “Thriller” and an alternately amusing and action-packed backdrop to introduce “Smooth Criminal,” in which Jackson’s inserted into the 1946 Rita Hayworth movie, Gilda. (He catches a glove she tosses to the audience after a performance.) It all points to a concert that would have been spectacular, and a talent who was rightfully adored.