Quint has seen the Michael Jackson concert flick THIS IS IT!
Published at: Oct. 28, 2009, 3:21 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on the Michael Jackson concert-that-never-was film THIS IS IT.
Like most of my generation Michael Jackson was a staple of my childhood. It was a huge deal when a new single hit, when a new record (or tape in my day) was released… It was a badge of honor amongst my friends to own Thriller… yes, even with that totally non-zombiefied MJ cover.
I was in elementary school when Dangerous came out and everybody had a copy. That’s not an exaggerated statement… I don’t think there was one fellow student in my classroom that didn’t watch the TV premiere of his Black or White video and excited talk about how cool it was the next school day.
All that goes to me being an easy target for a movie like this, aimed squarely at Michael Jackson fans.
Yes, it’s a cash-in. But there’s more substance to this cash-in than I expected. The film neither opens or closes with a big to do about Jackson’s untimely death, instead it focuses on the show he was about to put on.
I was worried about how this was going to come together to be honest. I heard the same rumors most of you did, I’m sure, that his voice wasn’t there, that he was struggling and the concert was looking like an epic failure. Either those rumors are wrong or some extreme movie magic trickery was on display tonight because the dude was on fire… Wait, that’s a poor choice of words… You know what I mean.
The best part of this peek behind the curtain is seeing Jackson construct each piece bit by bit, working with the dancers, back-up vocalists, the incredibly hot blonde Aussie (I think) guitar babe, his drummer and every person on the crew to make his vision happen.
In this case his mantra was to make this 100% for the fans. There wouldn’t be some new material he’s trying to shove down their throats… he just wanted to do the songs his fans wanted to hear. If there was ever any question about how to perform his classics he responded with “How the fans want to hear it, how it was on the album.”
Sure, the movie is set up to essentially idol worship Jackson, with crying dancers auditioning for the show at the opening to the predominantly God-angles he’s shot from (low camera looking up), but that’s their audience. People who hate the man aren’t going to be lining up to see this movie. Their audience wants to see him treated as the legendary artist he is.
I expected that. What I didn’t expect was seeing so much of his process and how meticulous he was, down to individual notes. He has a duet for I Just Can’t Stop Loving You that is fascinating to me. On one level you have the craftsman directing his partner almost forcefully during the song, grabbing her and moving her where he wants her, holding up a finger if she goes too crazy, guiding her with his own singing.
You have that, but you also have a sense of artistic competition that pushes him further than he was planning on going as the woman and Jackson try to out-sing each out. Jackson really steps up here and wails, causing everybody watching… technicians, director Kenny Ortega… to stop what they’re doing and give their full attention.
After the song duel (Jackson won, of course) Jackson apologizes, saying that he shouldn’t have done that because he has to warm up his voice… He doesn’t want to ruin his vocals for the paying fans by showing off during rehearsal.
You get all that from the man, see him pour his heart and soul into this show… you see him go from the familiar childlike innocence persona to a stern taskmaster trying to make sure his vision is put on the stage. You can see him get frustrated when someone jumps the gun (He tells people to stop and “let it simmer” over and over again), but he never throws any pop star diva shit.
Of course if he did I doubt we’d see it in this movie, but the impression of the man is one that really got to me emotionally.
As far as the music for the most part it’s pretty off the wall (man, look at how clever I am!) good, even with Jackson doing the majority of them at three-quarter speed to save his energy and voice for the actual show.
The only number I was disappointed with was Thriller. It was the most Frankensteined (I’m unstoppable tonight!) of the numbers with none of the three different filmed rehearsals seeming to sync with his lips, the vocals sounding suspiciously like the exact track off of the record. The dancing was about half-speed as well, so I don’t feel we get anywhere near the juice the number needed.
That said the filmed stuff for use during the show was pretty great. For Thriller they filmed a new bit in 3-D that starts in a Haunted Mansion-like building with a hanging ghost and a screaming widow ghost flying out the window over a graveyard where the undead rise as Vincent Price’s brilliant narration goes on.
Also, the Smooth Criminal scenes shot were awesome. That’s where I felt my biggest connection to Jackson. He inserts himself into classic gangster pictures, building replicas of stages from famous gangster movies and shooting himself into the picture. For instance, he starts out the Smooth Criminal number catching Gilda’s glove and then spends the rest of the black and white video running from Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.
If I was crazy rich and had a slightly bigger ego that’s the kind of shit I’d waste my money on… the illusion of sharing the same space as some of the gods of cinema.
It’s a shame the concert never happened. It would have been a helluva show… but at the same time I think I like this movie more than the concert. It’s a real look behind the scenes at just what kind of guy Jackson was. He has his weirdo moments. That’s part of who Michael Jackson was. He also has his childlike moments, something straight out of the South Park parody of him. But that was him, too. He also has moments where we see a flash of a genius working at his craft.
Separating all his personal shit, the man made a massive impact on the world, changed music forever and did a lot of good for a lot of people.
In a lot of ways I get the feeling he knew the end was coming since this almost felt like a lifetime achievement concert, a wrap-up of his artistic life from the Jackson 5 (yes, he has a Jackson 5 medley in the show) to present. It wasn’t looking forward, but back. At the age of 50 that’s rather telling.
Yes, the movie has his best music, some of the best pop music to ever be recorded, and a rare glimpse at a master working his craft. The energy and enthusiasm he showed brought a smile to my face more than once and caused my foot to tap along with the best of his work. His Billie Jean number itself is worth the price of admission. He goes into an almost jazz-dance, an impromptu series of moves to nothing but the drum-beat of the song for a good minute or two that caused everyone around to start whooping and hollering.
There was applause in my audience after many of the songs (and this was a press screening, not a regular sneak or midnight filled with Jackson die-hards) and people walking out with smiles on their faces and a wetness under their eyes.
Sure, it’s an obvious money-grab, but This Is It managed to also be an incredibly touching insight to one of the most iconic musicians of all time.