Rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images, 112 minutes
"This Is It": Entertaining but unrevealing MJ doc
"This Is It" bills itself as "Michael Jackson as you've never seen him before," which is partly right, given that we get a chance to see him in his final performances rehearsing for concerts that he would've given before he tragically died last summer. Michael Jackson rehearsing is almost as good as the real thing, right? Well, sort of. "This Is It" is indeed something new - the concert rehearsal film - and while there are some electric, entertaining moments, it doesn't shed any personal insights into the unique, multifaceted performer.
The documentary, which according to the epilogue, was intended for Jackson's private use, was culled from hundreds of hours of footage as MJ prepared for his series of comeback concerts, aptly titled, "This Is It," featuring a majority of his classic songs. Directed by choreographer Kenny Ortega, who helmed Disney's "High School Musical" movies and who was the tour director for this concert, the footage was shot backstage and at rehearsals at The Forum and the Staples Center in Los Angeles earlier this spring. The biggest surprise about the film is that the film's more memorable moments aren't provided by Jackson, but by the staging of the concert itself.
"This Is It" doesn't reveal anything new that we didn't already know about Jackson - that he was a gifted, passionate performer who was involved with every detail of his shows - and given that this is rehearsal footage, doesn't exactly show him at his very best as a performer. The restraint he shows here in preparing for the concert indicates he was preserving his energy for the actual performances later down the road.
It also doesn't show any signs of the troubled celebrity he was made out to be at his death, he appears to be performing quite normally (for him at least). Even with that, "This Is It" does show that Michael still had some moves as he exhibits potency in performances of "Thriller," "I'll Be There" (a touching moment), "The Way You Make Me Feel," and particularly with "Billie Jean."
Even more so, "This Is It" is more revealing when it comes to the actual production and some of the visuals that were to be used, which provide some of the film's more fascinating moments. We discover that new 3D footage was shot for "Thriller," not to mention incorporating MJ into a few brief scenes of the classic Rita Hayworth film "Gilda" as part of a "Smooth Criminal" performance (and a nice touch). And some of the special effects and sets used with "They Don't Care About Us" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" are visually stunning.
What can you do with all this rehearsal footage? Not too much, at least in giving us personal, close-up glimpses of Michael Jackson the person, obviously a different person offstage, but that may be saved for another film. "This Is It" doesn't show off Michael so much as it shows off the concert itself, which isn't a bad thing, just an unfortunate one, as the production would've probably made for a fantastic concert and a great career comeback.
"This Is It" is a decent backstage concert film and more fascinating for what could've been but more sad that Jackson's life was cut far too short.