by Jeff Niesel
Michael Jackson's This Is It begins with a sense of optimism — interviews with hopeful dancers auditioning for parts in the King of Pop's scheduled concerts in London. We see Jackson at a press conference, pumping his fist because he's clearly excited to tell fans about the shows, which he says will be his last ever in England. His tragic, sudden death in June meant that not one of the concerts ever came to fruition. Which makes This is It a rather uneven attempt to replicate what the production might have looked like.
Produced with the support of the estate of Michael Jackson, the film is a mish-mash of rehearsal footage patched together to resemble something close to a concert experience. In fact, with the exception of a few missed cues, the music's so sharp it sounds as if some rough mixes were doctored up in a recording-studio. While the musicians and producers talk of how well Jackson understands music, we never hear him speak too specifically about notes and harmonies.
"You have to let it simmer," he tells music supervisor and keyboardist Michael Bearden while working on the intro to "The Way You Make Me Feel," leaving Bearden guessing as to how exactly he should play the part. And in instructing his guitarist on how to finish off her solo in "Beat It," he simply says, "This is your moment to shine."
The movie certainly has its poignant moments. Jackson performs part of "Human Nature" with little accompaniment and shows just how well his voice has held up. His medley of Jackson Five tunes such as "I Want You Back" and "The Love You Save" is also moving, in part because we see photos of a young Jackson performing with his brothers. And he's still able to dance his ass off, slipping and sliding (and moonwalking) across the stage with ease. But too often we see shoddy shots of what is clearly a work-in-progress and the behind-the-scenes material eventually becomes tedious. As we see Jackson and a group of militant dancers work as director Kenny Ortega shoots new footage to be used during renditions of "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal," it's apparent this would've been one helluva production, comparable to a Broadway musical. But because it's such an odd pastiche of performances and interviews, This is It doesn't really do the concert's magnitude justice. But given that the filmmakers had to work with raw footage, they really couldn't capture the scale of the show. A more appropriate title: "This Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda Been It."