“This is It” is here to rescue us from the tabloids and remind us what true star power looks like. There are moments of aching sadness as we get a behind-the-scenes look at the concert tour that never happened, but it is the very intimacy of the preparation process that makes the film so enthralling. Jackson comes across as the consummate professional, always polite and appreciative but with a stunning mastery of the smallest detail and the biggest special effect in putting together what would have been a ground-breaking performance.
Jackson seems physically frail at times, conserving his voice and his energy in the musical numbers as the back-up dancers give it performance-level power every time. In one lovely moment, he falls so much in love with a song he is rehearsing that he cannot resist giving it full power and, as happens more than once in the course of the film, all of the people working on the show just stop to watch and listen, utterly entranced. In another moment, we glimpse his quick, private smile of satisfaction with a number that has come together. When he sings “I’ll Be There,” we can’t help being reminded that even though he is gone, his performances will be a part of our lives forever.
There’s a glimpse of the auditions, the dancers almost overcome with the chance to try out for what they consider the zenith of entertainment. He tells one musician to “let it simmer” and demonstrates a guitar riff for another. He is unfailingly appreciative and thoughtful, over and over thanking everyone and unfailingly respectful in giving direction, almost apologetic when he says that the earpiece is making it harder for him to hear. The endless series of bizarre outfits with their military stripes and Munchkin-like shoulders, seem irrelevant when we watch the way he interacts with people and the way he thinks about the songs and dances. Appropriately, the most thrilling moment is “Thriller.” Jackson says he wants to take us places we have never been before, and in this combination concert film/documentary, he reminds us of the power of imagination and talent and the reason he was a star.
Parents should know that this film includes crotch-grabbing, pelvic-thrusting dance moves, and grotesque and grisly images of zombies, ghosts, and monsters. It also has some excellent examples of how to work together with respect and high standards.
Family discussion: What do we learn about Michael Jackson from the way he tells people what kinds of problems he is having? What is your favorite Michael Jackson song and why?
If you like this, try: “The Wiz,” with Michael Jackson as the scarecrow