Jackson film a fitting tribute to his legacy

As is all too well known, Jackson was carried off shortly before embarking on a 50-date residency at London’s O2 Arena to try and pay off his rumoured $500m debts; footage shot during rehearsal for this series of shows forms the vast majority of this much-heralded and hyped film, and goes some of the way to plugging both fans’ disappointment and his estate’s balance sheet.

So, to the burning question: is there any intimation of Jackson’s impending demise? I can’t honestly say there is. In the footage we are permitted to see, Jackson appears in pretty good shape for a 50-year-old — even if his general spindliness makes him occasionally look a bit like Skeletor in a lamé tuxedo. He performs at walking pace for much of the time, but makes it clear he is holding himself in.

As for the film itself, I can simply report that it isn’t too bad at all. It’s pretty much unadorned rehearsal footage, artfully stitched together to create complete song sequences; and since the O2 gigs were intended to present his crowdpleasing hits, they’re all here in their toe-tapping glory. Director Kenny Ortega puts himself in the frame quite a bit (sucking up to Jackson something rotten, it has to be said), and we learn that Jackson appeared to prefer culinary metaphors to describe his music: it must ‘sizzle’, or ‘simmer’, or indeed ‘nourish’.

The big fear, though, was that fulsome homages to the man and his talent would smother ‘This Is It’ in a coating of treacle; thankfully, Ortega limits it to the occasional sobbing outburst from the dancers or choreographers. We are instead offered genuinely interesting tidbits of Jackson’s stagecraft, in the shape of intense discussion of cues, cherry-pickers and trapdoors — presumably to demonstrate how hands-on he was.

And there’s some fun sequences showing the creation of specially filmed inserts, such as the intro for Smooth Criminal having Jackson being Photoshopped into black and white movie clips from the 1940s, fending off Bogart and Cagney.

Jackson’s penchant for drivel couldn’t be entirely eliminated, as evidenced by the sickly little scene, built around a small girl wandering through an enchanted forest, that heralds ‘Earth Song’.
Still, this could have been a lot worse. It’s a bit much to claim it’s any kind of viable substitute for the live show, and since Jackson avoids conversation as much as is humanly possible it’s also a bit much to claim we get to know anything more about how he ticks. But ‘This Is It’ a testament of a kind, and one that is no disgrace to his memory.

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