It was one of those mornings like any other mornings, where I would wake up, and turn on the TV set to the news channel, as it plays in the background while I go about getting myself ready for work. It was a news feed to a flurry of police activity from a helicopter vantage point, and I thought there was probably another massive shootout in the USA, until I squinted at the news flash at the bottom of the screen. It mentioned something about Michael Jackson's passing, and I couldn't believe my eyes, I had to put my glasses on.
I pretty much grew up with the music of Michael Jackson, being all but 6 years old when I got the Thriller album on cassette tape, and was hooked. It was played countless of times, and I too performed Beat It with a primary one school friend, in front of the class, big MJ fans that we were. And in 1993 when he was in Singapore which served as a pit stop for his Dangerous World Tour, I was there as well, for the first night out of two when his birthday was celebrated. And all that just around the time when the craziest negative news about the man had surfaced.
But This Is It is not that documentary, but one that's set to allow audiences and fans all around the world witness what MJ was preparing for – that grueling 50 shows in London that would be as much a showcase as well as a swansong. I mean, he's no Peter Pan, and it's still pretty amazing that he still possessed this fabulous energy to create that special magic that only MJ can create on stage. Watching him perform live is definitely an entirely different experience from watching it on video, but I suppose Kenny Ortega had created the next best thing, culled from rehearsal footage of his practices leading to the run up of the landmark performances.
Naturally, don't expect MJ to be at his very best or performing everything 100%, as many a times he had mentioned that he's conserving energy, though most times he just couldn't help it but to perform his numbers through and through. It's also a valuable peek into how he crafts the entire performance to perfection and love, never losing his temper as he offers his two cents worth on what he exactly wants out of the performers, musicians and dancers. You can see the respect he commands from his crew, who knows that they must be up to the mark whenever he comes on set to practice with them, and it's very much amazing that when MJ is on fire, everyone else will be silenced, and in awe. Look no further than Billie Jean where the man just captivates everyone's attention.
And you cannot get better ringside seats than what this film has to offer. Culled from various rehearsals sometimes of the same song, it allows you to see how MJ finetunes and experiments with various ideas, especially for his dance. His stage performances were always a spectacle, and the sheer amount of effort in pyrotechnics and special effects, would make you wonder how awesome the actual London performance would have been, which sadly will never materialize beyond the ideas tossed up in this documentary.
If you'd wish not to know which were the rehearsal segments that made it to the film, then skip the next paragraph, though they do seem like a lineup very typical of a Michael Jackson concert, at least from Dangerous to the History World Tour:
As always, Wanna Be Startin' Something would open as a warm up number thanks to its title promising something bigger and better to come, as will Jam to keep up the energy level. Special effects are relied on for They Don't Care About Us to create sheer soldiering numbers, and Human Nature slows things down a little before we get shown new, prepared footage for one of the concert favourites with Smooth Criminal. MJ goes up close and personal with one of his handpicked crew playing an attractive lady he falls head over heels for with The Way You Make Me Feel which starts off with some slow blues, before going back to his Jackson 5 roots with a medley which included I'll Be There. The offerings somehow sagged with Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) and I Just Can't Stop Loving You, before a slew of favourites get built up for a crescendo. Many new video segments, in 3D too, was shot for Thriller, which features, check this, a giant spider in which MJ will emerge from, and some flying ghouls which will glide down the aisle and into and around the audience. Beat It will see MJ on a “cherry picker” hovering above them, before Black or White's mean electric guitar riffs and air blaster get turned on. In between environmental reminders with Earth Song and Man in the Mirror which also features new video clips, is one of my all time favourite performance from Billie Jean, though of course being a rehearsal, MJ stops short in delivering the entire sequence. Strangely enough there isn't a single moonwalking sequence to be seen in the film at all.
Ths Is It is as much about MJ, as it is about the meticulously handpicked dancers and backup performers who would have been part of a legendary concert. It's not easy supporting the King of Pop given the innate pressure to excel and he acknowledges that effort put in, though I feel it must have been quite heartbreaking for them to learn about the passing of the superstar, and a mentor whom I'm sure they would have learnt a lot from during their time spent together in preparation. At least their efforts will not go to waste with the release of this film, which may seem to be gimmicky since it's going to be on screen for only 2 weeks. And a reminder too not to leave the hall prematurely before the end of the end credit roll.
RIP Michael Jackson, you will be missed by your fans worldwide as the greatest performer who ever graced the stage.