Making a tribute film after the death of an icon is a difficult undertaking — how do you do justice to his or her life without making it feel overblown? But the new Michael Jackson documentary, This Is It manages to strike that balance. The anticipation for its limited release has been building for more than a month now when early ticket purchases broke sales records, and most of you said you wanted to see the film as well. I was worried about how the doc would measure up to the hype, but I'm satisfied with the final product.
This Is it follows Jackson in his final days preparing for his sold-out tour. MJ emerges dressed in a button-down, shades on, and with director Kenny Ortega at his right hand, as we get a front row seat at the rehearsals. It proves to be an intimate look at the performer who, even at 50, still had a fiery passion for his craft. Most of us will enjoy witnessing it here on the big screen, while others may leave the theater feeling even more disappointed about never getting to see the live show. To see what I mean,
MJ fan or not, you can't see this film without feeling awestruck by his dramatic flair as an artist. His voice is still on point, and his every movement on stage is punctuated by a flick of the wrist or a kick — it's like the music surges inside him and he has to stream it out through his fingertips. He still had the magic only weeks before his death.
While Jackson's dance skills may be a given, I was actually taken aback by how hands on he was in all facets of his tour. This is It shows him working on everything from green screen films to teaching choreography to attending band rehearsals. These sneak peeks provide surprisingly funny moments, but one of the loud-and-clear messages of the film is that Jackson did this for his fans. All of the popular favorites are included — "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," and "Thriller," of course. Jackson knew that's what the audience wanted, and he was happy to give it to us — while wearing his signature sparkly gold pants and a fedora.
The doc does have its drawbacks; some of the footage starts to feel stale midway through, and the film feels too long at nearly two hours. Still, I understand why the editors didn't cut anything in honor of Jackson's memory. Each song was important to him and he wanted listeners to hear his message. (He even speaks on his concern for environmental causes in the film). Before the closing credits, Jackson says he wants to "remind the world that love is important" — and even after his death, he manages to do so by leaving us with memories of a man who never stopped loving his fans or the music.