This Is It

As a Michael Jackson enthusiast, I had some reservations before making a ticket reservation. Wouldn't this be a shameless exploitation of the late singer? A clever marketing tool, to generate interest in the pending home video release? Worse of all, I was expecting two hours of talking heads. Because the pitch of This Is It - the making of of the cancelled concert series - sounds a lot like a behind the scenes featurette. And who needs interviews with everyone besides the man himself?

But hoorah! This Is It is all about the music. At least 85% of the flick consists of Michael Jackson dancing, singing, humming, strutting and directing. It's an intimate look into the creative process of the passionate performer. When the first footage of This Is It was leaked onto the internet a mere two days after his passing, we saw a fragment of They Don't Care About Us (with snippets from HIStory and She Drives Me Wild), but it was extremely obvious it was just playback. Jackson wasn't singing.

Luckily, there are numerous instances in This Is It where Jackson does sing. During a rehearsal of I Just Can't Stop Loving You, he even says he should be stopped while singing because he needs to spare his voice. But those moments are great, because it shows Jackson enjoying himself with his music. A friend of mine, Laura "Dirty" Van Alphen, who accompagnied me during the screening, pointed out a moment where Jackson started smiling right after director Kenny Ortega had shouted "Hold for applause". Rich stuff, because it proves Michael Jackson didn't see it as a chore. He was having a good time at certain moments, despite his fears, doubts and frustrations.

The movie's full of unexpected surprises, such as Jackson giving instructions ("A little more bass, please") or wearing a ridiculous Vanilla Ice-esque snow jacket. There's a glimpse of the shooting for the new Thriller-footage, which would have been a 3D-short film. The audio and video quality varies between the different takes of the songs, but the new high definition material is simply stunning, showing an incredible amount of depth and clarity. It's almost 3D, without the glasses, and will look great on Blu-ray.

We all know Jackson wasn't a pretty man anymore, but Laura and I agreed : during the The Way You Make Me Feel repetition, he sounds, moves and looks exactly the same as he did in the 1987 music video. It's as if 22 years never happened.

The biggest achievement of This Is It is the genuine excitement you can feel when you hear Michael Jackson perform some of his best songs. You will find yourself lipsynching and carefully dancing along. The movie makes him a little more immortal and it's quite saddening to see such a vibrant and - dare I say? - healthy 50-year old man at the top of his game. How great it would have been to see the actual concert, for which we actually had tickets. It was a possibility.

This Is It has been edited and finetuned with great care and eye for detail. It showcases our man Michael Jackson in all his glory, getting ready for the comeback of his life. Go and see it on the big screen while you still can!

Julian De Backer, 1 November 2009