'This Is It' is a weird movie to review. The first question, of course, is what, exactly is 'This Is It?' Well, it's a concert movie, sort of. And it's a documentary, also sort of. It's both magical and morbid, kind of like looking at a half-finished pyramid with the dead pharaoh's sequin-covered socks sticking out.
'This Is It' was culled from more than 100 hours of backstage footage of Michael Jackson's This Is It concert series, which, had he lived to see it, would have been a massive, 50-date spectacular in London's O2 Arena. It's comprised of footage of these dress rehearsals, which are in various stages of development, as well as interviews with principles (smokin' hot background dances, choreographers, lighting people) during the audition period. This is nice because it rescues the movie from any post-mortem sentimentalism. There's no "he was the most amazing entertainer that ever lived, this is a real tragedy," there's only "I am thrilled at this opportunity."
The rougher aspects of the tour, like sections that would have been completed with sophisticated hydraulics and whatnot, are seen as computer generated renderings. One involves a giant robotic figure made out of LCD screens that would then open up, with Michael falling out of its cavernous chest. Another had a bulldozer coming out of the stage, to stop inches from Michael Jackson, as he concluded "Earth Song," his histrionic plea to help the planet. We also get to see Michael and director Kenny Ortega (the mastermind behind the 'High School Musical' trilogy) film a new version of "Thriller," filled with all new graveyard spooks, which would have dazzled in 3-D.
It ends up being a pretty good approximation of what the concert would have been, even with the mock-ups. Where something falls short, like, say, watching one of the greatest dancers of all time sliding around on stage in oversized Ed Hardy sweatpants, you get a nice supplement in the form of his various tailors talking about how his costumes would have been out of this world. So by the end of the movie's nearly two hour running time, you may not have seen Michael Jackson's final concert, but you've got a damn good idea.
While Michael both looks, dance-wise, amazing and sounds as good as he's ever sounded, there are a few uneasy moments in the film's running time. Occasionally he sounds aloof and overmedicated, and his frail, thin body is enough to make you shudder, even if his dance steps are pulled off flawlessly. You feel you're watching a man on the edge of a precipice. Could pulling off this string of concerts have brought him back from the personal and professional torture he'd put himself through for the past ten years? Probably not. You can tell this is a man too far gone. But seeing all that sparkly hope that he and his crew exude in this film makes you wish it could have happened.
And that's where the main conflict comes from while watching 'This Is It' - it's the fascination, the sheer wonderment at the audacity and imagination of many of the set pieces Michael had concocted. One has him inserted into an old gangster movie, which segues into "Smooth Criminal." Another, seemingly inspired by the "Rhapsody in Blue" section of 'Fantasia 2000,' for "The Way You Make Me Feel," featured dancers climbing down from a digitally augmented building site. The "Thriller" stuff is impressive and all but it would have been even more so had there really been dancers getting sprung out of fresh graves on the stage.
But then there's that other part of your brain that creeps in, the one that says, "Wait a second, these are the last few months of a deeply troubled man's life." And, truthfully, it is pretty ghoulish. But most of that ghoulishness has been pushed aside to focus on the spectacle. This concert would have been a cranked-to-11, fireworks-and-pyro show that might not have restored his artistic credibility, but could have at least reminded the world of his boundless imagination and willingness to please (on the largest scale possible).
As it stands it’s more like a weird time capsule; a strangely intimate and affecting look at that same troubled life. Introspective it's not. What it is, is telling. The moments when he scolds and corrects his huge staff with platitudes and nonsense about "love" are the most telling. Since his own father beat the shit out of him when he screwed up, he's going to respond to imperfections with stern words and a cuddly delivery. Even his dogged perfectionism couldn't get in the way of that.
It should also be noted that the movie is a masterpiece of editing more than anything else, and when it's really on fire, like when Ortega looks at one performance through various rehearsals, the movie splitting into multiple screens, then you understand the real power of the movie (and the man). Still, the movie is about ten minutes too long. And some of the things that were included (like that "Earth Song" moment, which includes a little girl running through a computer-generated rain forest) seem like they were included more out of obligation than necessity.
'This Is It' is strange, for sure, and strangely compelling. I don't think I've ever seen a concert movie quite like this. It doesn't answer any questions about the fabled performer, but as a fleeting glimpse at his last attempt at artistic genius, it's a hell of a show.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' is one of the most bizarre 3D releases to grace this new format. It comes housed on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc, and is the only Sony Blu-ray 3D release to not feature transparent cover art utilizing the insert to create a 3D image. This one disc release houses both the 2D and "3D Enhanced Edition" of the film, and each version is selectable through the main menu.
'This Is It' on Blu-ray 3D is currently available only to those purchasing one of those expensive Sony 3DTV setups, in North America and in other regions. It can currently be bought for less than $50 on eBay, though listings for this item reveal an unusual detail, with a rumored late January release date. Sony hasn't been one to announce dates to their titles too far in advance, so this remains entirely possible. It is also peculiar because this promotional disc includes supplements, like a full retail version.
Hoo boy is Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' a weird duck on Blu-ray 3D. The packaging describing it as an "3D Enhanced Edition" isn't a lie, as it is not solid 3D all the way through. Instead, it's a cobbled together film, taking bits of standard definition, HD, and 3D and making one peculiar piece. It even has black and white footage thrown in for good effect.
'This Is It' is viewable two ways on this disc: with some random 3D sprinkled goodness, or none at all. If you go the 3D route, you will be advised via a pair of glasses with a green outline about five seconds prior to when a 3D scene will start. Hardly enough time to turn on your glasses and lift them to your face, but whatever. When the scene is over, and there is no 3D for some time, a pair of glasses with a red "x" through them advise you to take 'em off. The actual 3D in the film is not all continuous, even in segments that ask for you to put on the shades.
The 2D portion of the film is a bit difficult to get a read on and be positive about. The HD portions of it are obviously quite nice, but they're almost equaled in length by the sheer amount of blocky, jagged, banded, chroma fringed, fragile colored SD video that looks like absolute shit. There is no sugar coating it, it looks so bad you can smell it. There are some scenes that go split screen, with HD footage on one side, and SD on the other, and if anyone can't notice the difference, they need to go back to VHS, I hear they're quite cheap nowadays on Amazon and eBay...
The 3D portions of 'This Is It?' Not jaw dropping, and most certainly not infinitely deep by any stretch of the imagination, but they're pulled off quite well. Ghosting isn't too much of an issue, as it is very sporadic (a good thing!), and never all that blatant, save for the final screens of the film after the credits, with the "Heal the World" text going all awry. Some portions of the 3D, such as the They Don't Care About Us quick flash are too dark to really get a good feel about.
For those wondering exactly how much 3D is in the release, here's a complete listing of the spots that have 3D in the film: The Columbia logo and title sequence are our first glimpses, while the aforementioned dark as hell They Don't Care... segment is super short,. The Smooth Criminal footage is very much intercut with the rehearsal footage, but it looks very damn clean and sharp. The Way You Make Me Feel has some background video in 3D, that gets some quick flashes, and is a bit too reminiscent of 'Rent,' in a bad way. The cue for the Jackson Five gets a quick bit of 3D love, before turning off again until the Thriller portion, which is very cool because it's the only segment we see the 3D filming of, and it even includes some footage that isn't included in the supplements section. Earth Song is next, and is only a small portion of what we get to see in the extras. Finally, the entire end titles and credits sequences are in 3D, including some stage footage of Jackson, a first in this release. There isn't a ton of 3D on this release, to be honest, but it's an honest depiction of the show, considering what had to be done to get this video at all, since there were no live audience performances of it.
I absolutely loved the audio for 'This Is It.' Everything said here remains relevant and accurate to this new release.
Another thing that lets the occasionally below-average video slide is that, as intriguing as the visuals are, the music is what really carries this movie, and the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is profoundly stunning.
Quite obviously, when the classic jams kick in for the big musical numbers, it is beyond reproach. Everything just sounds amazing – from the backing band to Michael's on-point vocals. The music will fill any room, no matter what your surround sound set-up looks like. Just hearing those opening notes to "The Way You Make Me Feel" will send shivers up your spine. It's very hard to not listen to this movie and want to dance, dance, dance.
But the other parts of the movie – hearing Michael talk to his backing band about something he wants tweaked, or the clapping that erupts after the backup dancers stop what they're doing just to listen to him rehearse, are equally crisp and clear. Overall, it makes for an absolutely stunning sonic experience.
The one major change between the 2D release and this new 3D version is the amount of subtitles offered: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian.
The supplements on this release are not playable on a traditional TV, and are all enhanced by 3D, so they're placed in the exclusive content section.
Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' is a very unusual, grim spectacle, but it's far from exploitative, and that's a big plus. Michael Jackson was a great musical talent, even if his personal life is controversial, and this film is a nice way to remember the performer, as a dedicated, hard working, groundbreaking musician and dancer. This promotional Blu-ray 3D release is an odd duck in the video department, a mix of SD, HD, and 3D, and the constant turning on and off of your 3D glasses may get old real fast. Still, with this release dropping from $300 when it first hit eBay to an easy $50 or less, this one belongs in any serious 3D collector's library.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.