by Marc Bauer
I typically don’t take the time to write film reviews. I prefer to discuss them once the last reel finishes spinning and talk about the highs and lows at once. This is It is a film that deserves watching, provided you are a fan of the late Michael Jackson. If you are not a fan, or if you still want him tried for the crimes they allege against him, stop reading, turn the page and move on, though I think you would be missing out. Is it hero worship? Without a doubt. But watching the two hours of the film, you never feel that it is contrived, forced or undeserved. MJ is meticulous in his design. He has a tremendous vision, and this film shows what he was working on to see that vision made a reality. In one scene he spends time singing the note he wants the female guitarist to hit. He explains that the band will go silent and the lights will be on her, it is her moment to shine, enjoy it. How many superstars let the background players shine? How many coach them on what to do in order to shine? And this isn’t the only moment where he does this; you can hear him say that the fans are coming for talent, so bring your all. He refers to his team as family, and it doesn’t seem contrived at all. If you are expecting to hear the hits, remember that this was culled together from rehearsal footage, so most of the songs are slower tempos to run through the pacing, and in deference to saving Michael’s voice for the big shows. You will get a good idea of what the show would have been would that it had been, and that show would have rivaled that of Barnum. You find yourself humming and tapping a foot along with the music. The set list was all hits, because, as MJ says it is for the fans, play the songs like the albums, they way they know the songs best.
It is more than MJ in the movie; it opens with the teary eyed interviews with dancers arriving to audition to be back-up dancers back in April. There are candid moments with the musicians working on pieces of the songs. There is footage on the making of the footage that would have been projected on the big screen. Smooth Criminal involved old footage featuring Bogart and Edward G. Robinson chasing MJ in black and white footage; faithfully recreating sets to film and splice together with original film. 10,000 choreographed dancers, 10 human and some great CG work to duplicate and extend the troup to infinity. Thriller used the classing Victor Price narration, but recreated the whole video with 3D footage, floating ghosts, and a haunted mansion feeling. They even take a few moments to talk with the costume designers. MJ has always been known for his style, and this show would have been nothing if it didn’t contain the same couture we’ve come to expect from him. Swarovski crystals and lighting effects, check. One designed ever makes a comment, if it is a joke or not is uncertain, that they have scientists working on new ideas that have never been seen before.
Through out the film you get the impression that This is It, the concert, was a swan song, as MJ said when he initially announced the shows to be, he plays the hits, and he plays them all, including a Jackson 5 medley to boot. There is even lavish pyrotechnical design, a surprise to many who would have thought he to shy away from fire since the famous Pepsi debacle that left him brutally scarred.
For what many will see as a way to recoup the massive losses the AEG were hit with, Randy Phillips and Kenny Ortega deliver a movie that has as much heart and compassion as the icon that it showcases. Sure there were concerns over his health, but this isn’t a movie about that, this is a film about the concert that would have been. This is not the man at his greatest, this is the man preparing to deliver his greatest.
Final Rating: *** (of 4)
Note: Marc Bauer, a friend and member of the Fairview-based e mail network, is employed at The Agency Group, a music talent association based in Manhattan, which has among its clients Jack White. Wonders in the Dark is thrilled to have Marc’s review of ‘Thi is It,’ a concert film that Lucille and I saw with all the kids last night at the Clifton AMC at 7:00 P.M. Marc’s review pretty much reflects our own general opinion.