The film opens with heartfelt introductions by Jackson's dancers, which gives way into a performance of the pulsing Wanna Be Starting Somethin. Right away, you see that Mr. Jackson moves as confidently as ever and still has command of the stage. Halfway through the song, we witness Michael announce the concerts at the previously-mentioned press conference and oversee the auditions for dancers. (I was in my last semester of college at the time. I seriously considered auditioning, but I chose to graduate instead).
As the film progresses, you can't help but forget Michael's controversies and find yourself drawn more and more into his talent. You stop noticing his pale skin and gaunt figure and remember why you fell in love with Michael Jackson in the first place. While many people praise Michael for his dancing and showmanship, some of brilliant performances in This Is It will remind viewers that the man could sang. At times, his voice sounds as pure and confident as it ever has. Listening to his falsetto soar on Human Nature proves that Jackson hadn't lost a note. I Just Can't Stop Loving You is another example of the performer not needing theatrics to entertain his fans; he can move you with his voice alone. In my opinion, his voice sounded as if it were about to peak again. 2009 Michael Jackson sounded just as phenomenal as 1983 Michael Jackson.
Though more than once in the film he holds back vocally, stopping to say, "I'm trying to warm up my voice." He rarely went all out during these rehearsals because he wanted his voice to be at its best for the shows.
The same is true with his signature dancing. While he still moved with flawless precision, he noticeably held back a bit at times. However, there were times when he stepped it up a notch, particularly during his electric performance of Billie Jean. Overall, Michael's dancing was as funky, sensual and eye-opening as it's ever been.
As was always the case with Michael Jackson productions, there are innovative surprises. Smooth Criminal opens with a vignette where Michael is digitally inserted into the 1946 film Gilda. After Rita Hayworth flirts with him, he is then chased by a jealous Humphrey Bogart in a gun-chase. It's fresh, fun, and not something you expected to see. Thriller also features a new vignette which includes a creepy house, ghouls, zombies and a foggy graveyard. At the climax of the song, Michael emerges from a giant black widow spider and dances with the undead.
Many of the star's big hits are performed in the film, ranging from Jackson 5 songs like I Want You Back to later songs like Earth Song. Though his talent was ever-present, the passage of time reveals some minor changes in Michael's persona. Fans may notice that his speaking voice had underwent a change. The falsetto whisper has been replaced by a more resonant tone. Likewise, Michael still had plenty of energy, but it was less "childlike" than previous years. This Michael Jackson appeared more like your hip uncle than the man-child we're used to seeing. Watch him strut into the press conference with the gangsta stroll!! lol.
Before I forget, take a look at the full Smooth Criminal vignette below.
* Michael comes across really well. Unlike many other entertainers, he was not a jerk to his employees when things went wrong. "I want this funkier," he once said to the bassist, then mimicked the funky bassline the way he wanted it to go. Another time, the band made a mistake and Jackson gently corrected them. "It's OK...this is why we rehearse." Even when being assertive, he was as gentle as could be with his directions, often ending his sentence by saying "...with love. L.O.V.E."
* There are some brief highlights from Michael's 2001 album Invincible, including a live snippet of Speechless, the band breaking into Threatened, and the Break O' Dawn Club, which is referenced in the Smooth Criminal vignette.
* The band did an amazing job, though I could tell they were still getting things down. I was surprised that Michael replaced Greg Phillinganes and Jennifer Batten. In addition to Michael wanting new faces this time, his former drummer Ricky Lawson told me that he and Phillinganes did not return because they weren't getting paid as much as they were on previous tours.
* I'm not going to go into "drug addiction" stories here. I'd rather focus on the film. But in watching Michael's death trial and seeing testimonies of Kenny Ortega and others, you'd expect to see a drugged up Jackson in this film. But you see nothing of the sort. Michael looked thin, but otherwise appeared healthy, alert and happy. In fact, there are times when he out-dances his back-up dancers, most of whom are 20-30 years younger. Just from looking at the movie, you wouldn't guess of the things that happened off-camera concerning his health.
* I was disappointed that there was no new music. Performing old hits made Michael appear to be living off old glories. The show looked like it would be great, but new music would have been a plus.
But the This Is It film accomplishes this feat also. It sucks you in and you get caught up in the magic of Michael Jackson. His charisma, his mystique....you become a fan during these two hours. There are no little children around. No chimps or other exotic animals. No controversy. Just a mega-talented man working and motivating his crew to create the greatest show on earth.
I gotta rate this 5 stars out of 5.
This Is It *****