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That’s all, folks: MJ in This Is It.

Long Live the King

By John Brodeur

This Is It

Directed by Kenny Ortega

A noted perfectionist like Mic hael Jackson would have had some issues with releasing an entire film composed of his rehearsal footage. For a performer who gave nothing less than his all onstage, a behind-the-scenes deconstruction of his craft might have been taken as a short-selling of his true talent. But in the wake of Jackson’s untimely passing in June of this year, the world’s appetite for his work spiked. Fans came out of the woodwork to gobble up the late singer’s various hits, compilations and memorabilia. Naturally, more product would follow. With the release of This Is It, those close to Jackson have given fans a glimpse at two things they might not otherwise have seen: the massive concert production that was to have been the singer’s comeback, and the artist in a state of rediscovery, finding his voice and footing after a lengthy absence from the stage. He may not have wanted his audience to see him in that light, but it’s a testament to his vision that this film is even possible. Even when he’s just walking through the songs, Jackson is an electrifying force.

Culled from more than 150 hours of footage originally intended for the performer’s private archive, This Is It provides an inside look at the preparations for a 50-concert series that was scheduled to take place in London over the second half of this year. The film could have been a shambolic mess, but it avoids disaster by sticking to what fans would want to see: It’s wall-to-wall music, sequenced approximately as the shows were to have been. There’s no gossip, not even a single mention of Jackson’s death, just the nuts and bolts of what would have been an outstanding spectacle.

This glimpse into Jackson’s inner sanctum does a better job of refuting the rumor-mongers than any amount of talking could. For all those who claimed that Jackson looked frail, there are dozens of intense dance sequences. The performer rarely stands still, choreographing his body movements to every lyric. For anyone who suggested his voice was no longer up to par, witness his ad lib on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” He’s not singing at full voice—he’s just “warming up,” saving himself for the concerts—but it’s all there. Whoever said Jackson wasn’t having a good time should see his wide smile in the closing moments of “They Don’t Care About Us.”

The concerts, choreographed and directed by Kenny Ortega, were to incorporate newly filmed segments. The new footage shown here ranges from goofball clever (a piece introducing “Smooth Criminal” inserts Jackson into such film noir as Gilda and The Big Sleep) to patently unnecessary (a 3-D “Thriller” redux). But those are just distractions; the music is what’s important. And Jackson clearly lived and breathed his work, something not just backed up by the testimony of his dancers and band members but also in the very nonmusical way the singer spoke about music. “You gotta be nourished by it,” he tells his band, and via This Is It fans can once again be nourished by Jackson’s one-of-a-kind talent.

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