Cut together from the hours of footage shot during rehearsals for the singer’s projected O2 Arena concerts, Michael Jackson’s This Is It boasts the strutting tagline “Discover the man you never knew”. But don’t watch this documentary film expecting to find insight into Jackson’s troubled psyche, or to spot premonitions of his impending death, watch instead for glimpses of his peerless talent.
Director Kenny Ortega, choreographer for the O2 shows, has stitched together footage from different rehearsal dates to create complete songs. Despite Jackson’s costumes changing every few seconds, they hang together remarkably well.
Spliced in too are extracts from the filmed sequences that would have accompanied the shows, including a rendition of Smooth Criminal that sees Jackson share the screen in black and white with such long-dead Hollywood icons as Bogie and Rita Hayworth. The sequence now has a poignancy no one could have anticipated.
Jackson looks painfully thin, and he is clearly holding himself back in the numbers, but his gifts as singer and dancer evidently remained intact. Whether he could have lasted the proposed 50 concerts is another matter. This, though, is what we are left with: not a post-mortem nor a resurrection, but a concert movie without the concert.