Casey: The release of a documentary after Michael Jackson's death on June 25 was inevitable since fans were ravenous for a glimpse of Jackson's final days before his sold-out, final tour. Based on "This Is It," which is culled from 80 hours of footage shot during his preparations for the tour, it would have been a doozy.
The film is sure to dispel rumors Jackson was past his prime. He co-designed the choreography and dances circles around a crew of 20-something's. The set list, of course, is uniformly great, despite the inclusion of some oddball choices ("They Don't Care About Us" and "Earth Song") with all the requisite hits.
Unfortunately, the film lacks focus. Director Kenny Ortega includes snippets of crew interviews and segments showing MJ's commitment to professionalism and precision, which might make some think it's a true documentary, but they are tantalizingly brief. The film also glosses over Jackson's death or how it affected his crew. Considering that's why the film was released to begin with, ignoring it is an odd decision.
Holly: Yeah, I have to agree with that. I understand that the point of "This Is It" is to show that his work lives on, but you can't pretend the man still does. Sad though his death may be to fans, to not even acknowledge it in an on-screen memorial is almost irresponsible. Seeing post-mortem interviews with the dedicated performers who shared the stage with Jackson would have added to the emotional impact of the film.
The film itself didn't seem to quite know what it was. A concert or a documentary? I would have liked to have seen more interviews with the performers, especially the dancers who took on Jackson's unique choreography style and acted as, to quote Ortega, "an extension" of the King of Pop himself. And despite the tributary nature of the piece, the behind the scenes footage is too worshipful. There's no frustration, no exhausted musicians, nothing indicating that being a part of this effort was anything less than a bowl of cherries. I don't buy that.
Casey: Because of the dearth of behind-the-scenes footage, fans might expect more from the performances scenes. Unfortunately, the film isn't a cohesive recording of a final dress but spliced together from multiple days of rehearsal. The choreography comes off well, but the singing suffers, since Jackson seems more concerned with nailing his dance moves than the songs he no doubt knows by heart at this point.
Holly: Well, his voice seemed to be suffering. He mentioned preserving it on more than one occasion, and his conversations with crew members were often subtitled.
While the footage is more flattering than images of Jackson dangling his baby over a balcony, it certainly doesn't contradict impressions of him as an eccentric. The reverence with which he was treated, including by longtime collaborator Kenny Ortega, was uncomfortable to watch at times. People seemed to be walking on eggshells, loathe to even begin to upset or contradict Jackson. It represented him as both a child and a Jesus figure. Indeed, Jackson seemed to view himself as an apostle of sorts. He offered a lot of "God bless you" and mentions of "doing it for love," but despite some shows of humility, I got the impression he felt he really was saving the world. Jackson was a legendary, brilliant, influential musician and performer, no doubt, but patented crotch-grabbing (and yes, the dancers were given lessons) was never going to cure cancer.
Casey: As a memorial to Michael Jackson, "This Is It" will remind fans why he was the king of pop, but it won't satisfy their hunger for anything new.
Holly: As a concert, "This Is It" would have been an over-the-top show in the best sense of over-the-top. As a film, I'm not sure exactly what it was, but it wasn't quite...it.
Casey Phillips: 3.5 (out of 5)
Holly Leber: 3 (out of 5)
Movie: "This Is It"
Rating: PG for suggestive choreography and scary images.
Synopsis: Documentary footage from the final weeks of Michael Jackon's life during his preparations for his final tour.