Sony Pictures | USA | 112 min.
For Michael Jackson fans chances are nothing will sway your inclination to run to the theater immediately to see the late, great performer doing what he was born to do. One can be relieved, this film is strictly Jackson doing what he does best, but nothing more. Director Kenny Ortega doesn’t dig back into his past or interview celebrities who admired Jackson. In fact he doesn’t even mention his untimely death. This is a quickly stitched together, by-the-numbers account of the concert one will never be able to attend, but it still manages to work.
The format is simple. We see a complete song rehearsal captured on a number of cameras ranging from astounding high definition to low-quality standard resolution, followed by a short glimpse into Jackson’s preparation and occasional looks at what the concert would have been like. Rinse and repeat about fifteen times and “this is it”. For fans, this is a truly remarkable experience as they are able to witness what was sure to be one of the greatest concerts in history. For non-fans they will likely enjoy a few of the performances but the glaring omission of a dramatic structure and narrative weight may prove to be mundane towards the end of the nearly two hour run time. Both groups will not be able to deny Jackson’s overwhelming ability to perform and entertain.
This unadulterated joy that we see in Jackson outside of the performances is what I wish the film had more of. It seems like Ortega wanted to fit the full performance of each song in that he was forced to cut out much of the interactions Jackson had with the crew and performers when it wasn’t time to rehearse. The few segments that we get to witness Jackson’s character are the moments that prove to be the most genuine and endearing. Whether it is a small quip to the pianist or his greeting to a single crew worker as he is raised high above the crowd; it is this constant love for the people that clearly worked furiously to create something special that shows us why Jackson was so admired.
This admiration was apparent in my theater as it felt more like attending a concert then watching a film. I don’t think I’ve been surrounded in so much silence at the beginning of the film when the text scroll explaining the event that was about to unfold appeared before us. As the songs ramped up I could see a number of people rocking their head and dancing in the seat. When Jackson instructs the audience to wave their arms back and forth that is precisely what many members of the audience did. After each performance there was scattered applause and as the film ended one could feel the love and somberness of the theatergoers and fans.
The film does a wonderful job of including all of Jackson’s hits. From Smooth Criminal to Beat It to Thriller to Billie Jean each song has a unique theme and it is remarkable to see Jackson at the top of his game, delivering each note with perfection. Ortega also gives a preview of what we would have been able to experience in the theater. In one sequence, that was to be used as an intro for Smooth Criminal they place Jackson alongside Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth in Gilda and The Big Sleep. In another they create millions of soldiers dancing to Jam and in another they design a eerie graveyard for Thriller. The most heart-touching moment of the film comes with Jackson’s performance of I Want You Back. Ortega cuts in shots of Jackson as a young child performing with his brothers. We see a completely different physical appearance, but the pure ecstasy that Jackson exudes has never changed and the sudden realization that this is the last time it was captured on film is harrowing.
By avoiding any personal issues in Jackson’s life and focusing on the what the fans would have seen had this event had come to life, Ortega portrays the performer as a untarnished God-like figure. This gives his followers exactly what they want to see, but some naysayers may have trouble with the complete disregard for any extracurricular events. As a remarkable gift for the canceled tour this succeeds in satisfying and confirming our love for Jackson and the songs he has given to the world, but don’t expect an expertly crafted entry in documentary film.
7 out of 10
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