This Is It (2009)

This Is It (2009)
  • Time: 112 min
  • Genre: Documentary | Music
  • Director: Kenny Ortega
  • Cast: Michael Jackson, Darryl Phinnessee, Kenny Ortega


In the weeks before his death, Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was rehearsing a show, “This Is It,” that was to open in July. This film begins with a few of the auditioning dancers speaking to the camera about why they’re trying out and what Jackson means to them. Then we plunge into rehearsals at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The film is arranged by musical number with pre-recorded material and footage from Jackson’s various rehearsals edited together to take us through what would have been the concert’s set list.

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  • This Is It is Michael Jackson’s final curtain call, a documentary-concert film which captures the King of Pop in action during the rehearsals for what could have been the biggest concert show ever staged by a pop star of such legendary stature in the last couple of decades.

    His passing is sudden and shocking. But his musical legacy and strong professional ethics live on. This Is It is a poignant reminder of his incredible musical talent and more crucially, his encompassing love for nature and humanity.

    Directed by Kenny Ortega, This Is It represents familiar territory for the director of High School Musical (2006), who knows a thing or two about capturing musicals and concerts on film. Whether they are worth watching is another matter. Having said that, This Is It however exceeds expectations, and I am glad that Ortega has done a commendable job to make a film which preserves the sanctity of Jackson’s greatness.

    Ortega wisely avoids the controversy surrounding Jackson’s death and chooses instead to focus entirely on the singer-dancer’s commitment to his craft. This is how MJ (as he is affectionately called) would have wanted his fans to remember him for.

    A wide repertoire of songs are featured here including classics such as ‘Thriller’, ‘Billie Jean’, and ‘Beat It’, and favorites like ‘Black Or White’, ‘Man In The Mirror’, and ‘Earth Song’. Performed live by a very talented group of musicians together with Jackson’s irresistible vocals, these songs are delivered to the theater’s sound system in extreme clarity.

    I daresay that the most outstanding aspect of This Is It belongs to its sound mixing which could be (and should be) nominated for an Oscar. It gives one of the most immersive ‘concert’ experiences on screen since Scorsese’s Shine a Light (2008). And it is because of the fantastic sound work here which helps to create an illusion over the film’s most significant drawback – the absence of a narrative thread.

    If one were to break the film down to its most basic parts, it can be observed that it is just a random assembly of footage from Jackson’s rehearsals with the occasional ‘off-stage’ exchange of dialogue. This Is It could have been assembled any another way with the same footage but edited in a different running order and it would be a different kind of the same.

    This means there is a lack of a driving narrative or one that coherently links together various parts to form a recognizable structure in which viewers can identity with and follow visually. If not for the hard work put in by the sound department, and the presence of Jackson himself (and his music), This Is It would not have fared better than the ‘High School Musicals’.

    Fans of MJ will be divided over the release of this film. Some will embrace it, seeing it as a celebrative tribute to a respected music icon while others might view it as milking the cash cow, taking advantage of his death to set cash registers ringing. No side is more right than the other.

    Instead, This Is It should be seen as a ‘what if’ film; it allows us to question the future – one in which MJ successfully navigates through the protracted fifty sold-out shows. Will that feat change the way critics or cynics look at the pop star like this film has so excellently accomplished? We will never know. But at least we know MJ tried.

    GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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