Produced with the support of the Estate of Michael Jackson, the film is a mish-mash of rehearsal footage, patched together to resemble something close to a concert experience. In fact, with the exception of a few missed cues, the music sounds so sharp, it’s hard not to think that some tinkering has gone on in the recording studio to brush up what must have been pretty rough mixes and blend different arrangements together. While the musicians and producers talk about how well Jackson understands music, we never hear him speak too specifically about notes and harmonies. “You have to let it simmer,” he tells music supervisor and keyboardist Michael Bearden while working on the intro to “The Way You Make Me Feel,” leaving Bearden guessing as to how exactly he should play the part. And in instructing his guitarist on how to finish off her solo in “Beat It,” he simply says, “This is your moment to shine.”
The movie certainly has its poignant moments. Jackson performs part of “Human Nature” with little accompaniment and shows just how well his voice has held up. His medley of Jackson Five tunes such as “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Share” is also moving, in part because we see photos of a young Jackson performing with his brothers. And he’s still able to dance his ass off, slipping and sliding (and moonwalking) across the stage with ease. But too often, we’re looking at shoddy shots of what is clearly a work-in-progress and the behind-the-scenes material eventually becomes tedious. As we see Jackson and a group of militant dancers work in front of a green screen and as director Kenny Ortega shoots new footage to be used during renditions of “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal,” it’s apparent this would have been one helluva production, easily comparable to a Broadway musical. But because it’s such an odd pastiche of performances and interviews, This is It doesn’t really do the concert’s magnitude justice. But given the fact that the filmmakers had to work with raw footage, they really couldn’t capture the scale of the show. A more appropriate title: “This Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda Have Been It.”
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