This Is It [Blu-Ray]
Director : Kenny Ortega
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2009
When Michael Jackson died unexpectedly on June 25th of last year, he was mere weeks away from launching a 50-date concert series in London that would hopefully reconfirm his status as the “King of Pop” by marking his return to the stage after a nearly decade-long absence. When Jackson and his team decided to call the concert series This Is It, the intention was to convey that these shows were Jackson’s curtain call, his last-hurrah live stage spectacular, which helps explain why tickets sold out in minutes and new dates had to be added. Of course, it turned out to be a sad irony that This never actually happened. Jackson’s untimely passing turned out to be the true It.
However, during the rehearsals from April to June 2009, videographers shot some 170 hours of footage that was intended to be used as part of the preparation process. This footage is now Jackson’s final testament, and it represents a gold mine in terms of both confirming the tantalizing notion of what could have been had Jackson not died and offering proof that, despite years of tabloid turmoil, financial troubles, and criminal-legal fiascos, Jackson was still a pop megastar extraordinaire. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Kenny Ortega, Jackson’s long-time collaborator and co-designer of the show, accepted the challenge of whittling the hours of footage into a two-hour concert film, the fundamental goal of which is nothing less than cementing Jackson’s already legendary status and mobilizing imagery of the man in action to ensure that his last stamp on earth befits his stature in entertainment, rather than lurid grocery-store gossip.
Maintaining the same title as the concert series, This Is It is everything it promised to be in offering irrefutable evidence that, even at 50 years of age and with a body wracked with arthritis and prescription drugs, Michael Jackson could move like no one else on earth and put on the kind of show that befits his title. Jackson’s singular genius has always been his ability to entertain and cut across divides at the same time. The first black superstar of the MTV era, Jackson redefined pop music, became a global phenomenon, and sadly found his talents nearly eclipsed by the undeniable weirdness of his life, best exhibited by the constant plastic surgeries that turned him into self-made wax sculpture. But, oh, how the man could move and sing and transform a stage with such energy and vitality, and when he is doing what he did best in This Is It (which is pretty much the entire film), it soars.
Ortega, who also helmed the insanely popular High School Musical (2003), clearly understands what makes Jackson shine, and the footage in This Is It is carefully chosen and edited to highlight both his on-stage genius and the essentially humble, quiet nature that makes it so hard for so many to believe he could be capable of the crimes of which he had been accused. None of that, of course, is broached here, and it shouldn’t be. This Is It is not a documentary about the multifaceted conflict between Jackson the superstar and Jackson the flawed human being; rather, it is a celebration of his inordinate talents and therefore a final gift to the fans who wanted to see him do his thing one last time.
And that is precisely what they get. Ortega structures the film like a concert, moving from one setpiece to the next with little time in-between to catch your breath. The film is always rolling, moving, emphasizing the visceral nature of a truly great live performance while also reminding us of the difficult work and toil required to pull one off. Although the video footage was never meant to be assembled in this manner, Ortega and his team of editors make it work, cutting together different rehearsal takes that gives us the best possible version of each performance while also illustrating how greatness takes practice, practice, practice (at times Ortega even employs split-screen so we can watch Jackson doing the same move at different times, which helps us appreciate his precision and dedication to his craft). The footage is sometimes razor sharp, at other times grainy and somewhat fuzzy, but it all works together to convey the essence of what might have been.
From the disco beats of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” to the militant march of “They Don’t Care About Us,” to the soft strains of “Man in the Mirror,” Jackson’s music remains a dynamic testament to his song-writing abilities and also provides the perfect backdrop to his performative display, which is augmented by a talented group of backup dancers who constantly seem in awe of what they are doing and with whom they are doing it. Most of the songs are presented almost exactly as they sound on their respective records (something that Jackson apparently insisted on), with the exception of “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which is brilliantly realized in a new arrangement. And, although most of the dance routines recreate the familiar music videos move for move (particularly “Thriller,” which is taken to grandiose heights with a new background film that was to be presented in 3-D), there is still something invigorating about watching them come together again.
In some sense it is hard to write about the film This Is It without slipping into a critique of the concert itself, because the two are essentially one in the same (which is enhanced by the fact that the concert was designed to seamlessly merge large-format media with live interaction). There is very little that is fundamentally cinematic about the film except for the fact that it works in images rather than live experience. Thus, in thinking back, any criticisms I might have are more about the design of the concert (a rather ham-handed environmental film-within-the-concert that was going to accompany “Earth Song,” for example) than the film itself. If there is anything to be said about This Is It the film, it is that I cannot image a visual record of any kind doing a better job of showing us what might have been, which makes it both a cause for celebration and its own unique tragedy.
|This It It Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||January 26, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|When taking into account that virtually none of the footage in This Is It was ever meant to be seen by the general public, the film’s 1080p high-definition presentation on this Blu-Ray disc is pretty impressive. The footage in the film is a mixture of both high-definition and standard-definition video, most of which was shot on the fly with little concern for calibrating the camera (in general it was shot on automatic). Thus, while the footage is hardly as good as it could be had it been better planned, its presentation here is an accurate representation. The high-def imagery is frequently impressive, with great detail and color. Some of the standard-def images are fairly grainy and lacking in definition, but that is to be expected. The lossless DTS Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack, on the other hand, is nothing short of superb all the way through. Jackson’s music has never sounded better, with excellent fidelity, great depth, and an immersive sense that gives you the feeling of being right there in the middle of the rehearsals.|
|Although there is no audio commentary, the Blu-Ray of This Is It includes a number of supplements that help contextualize the film and also offer more insight into the concert that never was. “Staging the Return” is a three-part 41-minute documentary that is primarily about the planning of the concert itself. Featuring interviews with Kenny Ortega, the show’s producers, and the majority of creative personnel who helped to design it, the doc gives a fuller portrait of what might have been than the film alone. There are also several shorter featurettes, including “The Gloved One” (15 min.), in which costume designer Zaldy discusses the design of the elaborate costumes Jackson was to have worn on the tour; “Memories of Michael” (17 min.), in which Ortega and the concert crew share their own memories of working with Jackson; “Auditions: Searching for the World’s Best Dancers” (10 min.), which explores how the 11 backup dancers were selected from more than 5,000 applicants; and “Making ‘Smooth Criminal’” (11 min.), which gives a behind-the-scenes look at how Jackson was digitally inserted into old film footage alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth. Also included on the disc is the entire “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” vignettes, each of which would have played on the massive screen behind the stage as an introduction to each of the songs, and the original theatrical trailer. And, as with other Sony Blu-Rays, this one features movieIQ, which allows you to access real-time information on the cast, music, trivia, and more while watching the movie, as well bookmark your favorite songs featured in the film and email yourself a customized playlist.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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