Michael Jackson; troubled genius or leering child-catcher?
The first concert I ever went to see was a Michael Jackson concert. In 1992, I went to see the London leg of his Dangerous tour to celebrate my ninth birthday. At the time I had no way of knowing that I was setting myself up for a very easy joke about how ‘dangerous’ a place a Michael Jackson concert was for a nine year old boy. You know, because of the sleeping with children thing.
I’m not saying outright ‘Michael Jackson definitely was a paedophile, definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, definitely’. What I’m saying is that he used to sleep with children in his bed. It was something that he described as ‘charming’ in a TV documentary, although it failed to charm the pants off of, at least, every media outlet in the world and 99% of parents. Not least because he was already the subject of police investigations and some of the most bizarre rumours I’ve ever heard.
The things you’d hear said about the man. That he slept in a fish tank with a geriatric walrus. That he had sold his original face to an alien race in exchange for them agreeing to turn him into an anime version of Peter Pan. That if you play ‘Thriller’ backwards you can hear him watching Home Alone 2. All unsubstantiated, non-existent rumours.
There’s no denying that the Michael Jackson case was an odd one, and in the last decade he became a difficult character to pin down. On the one hand, his kooky behaviour and increasingly warped physical appearance made him a figure of ridicule. On the other hand, he was being investigated for child molestation and so represented a real threat. People weren’t sure what to do. Some became angry. Some made jokes. Huey Morgan of the band Fun Lovin’ Criminals chose to address the issue live on the BBC, suggesting that “Michael Jackson f*cks kids!” Some people just chose to dress up like him in front of a court and release doves into the air all day.
At the end of his trial, Michael Jackson was found not guilty, which means that he definitely was not guilty. It’s like the thing OJ Simpson’s lawyer said about the glove that was used as evidence in the trial against him; ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’. Of course, a single glove covered in DNA evidence would have been a far more damning piece of evidence in the Jackson trial, but that’s neither here nor there.
Jackson seemed to lay low for a few years and people seemed to forget about things. Occasionally there’d be a report that he was bankrupt or that he had been waving his children over large crowds from a great height, but these were fairly small incidents in comparison to some of the more prominent stories about him. Then he announced a huge run of concerts in London last year and people went bananas. I remember asking people who had previously been very critical of him, calling him names like ‘baby-dangling nonce’, why they had bought tickets. This was always responded to with a slight variation of ‘Well, I don’t personally agree with all of his life choices, but you can’t deny that the man is a great entertainer’
Then shock around the world when Jackson suddenly died. People were stunned by his death as he was a picture of perfect health. The epic concert became a documentary about the making of the epic concert. Last night I poured myself a tall glass of Jesus Juice and kicked back to watch This Is It.
‘This Is It’ could easily have been renamed ‘This Is It?’. It’s a slight movie built from a very small amount of usable footage. Perhaps the most confusing thing about the whole affair is its bloated run time. Had they trimmed the film down considerably (and I mean they need to lose at least 40 minutes of the nearly 2 hour run time), it could have worked. As it stands it’s a real slog to watch in its entirety as they dedicate a very large amount of time to very little actually happening.
The film is presented as almost a series of vignettes. There’s an introduction (which mercifully glosses over MJ’s bizarre press conference appearance to announce the shows) before each song gets with a half performance from Jackson along with a few interviews from the various contributors. They also insert a little segment about the dancers and the band, and for Thriller and Smooth Criminal they show some of the making of the video clips they had prepared for the concerts. It’s very patchy and the content shows something quite a distance from a polished, finished performance. The documentary gives an impression of what the concert would have been like, but a fairly vague one. This Is It plays more like a bonus feature, not the main presentation of a disc.
The things that really struck me about the documentary is how little there is to enjoy in it. The songs are ruined because they’re being half sung by a man who is saving his voice for the, umm, big occasion. So even if you’re a big fan of the music, this isn’t the purchase for you. There’s no insight into the man himself. He’s either dancing the robot or standing about looking gormless and baffled, occasionally even taking a moment out of his performance to tell the crew that he thinks love is magical.
The couple of parts I found interesting were the clips of Jackson interacting with the band. He clearly knew what he was doing and everyone seemed to be in total awe of him. That’s about it. Oh, and the making of the 3D Thriller clip was, well, not interesting necessarily, but less boring.
If there was a reason that I watched this film, outside of that I thought it would be funny, it was because I wanted to see if Jackson was especially creepy. Disappointingly, not particularly. Kenny Ortega, on the other hand, seems a terrifying man. He’s the director of the High School Musical trilogy, if that’s any indication. Ortega emerges as the regular winner of the constant battle amongst Jackson’s employees for a prime spot to suckle at his anus and tell him how magical it tastes. I was expecting to come away from this film with a stronger idea of Michael Jackson. Instead, I’ve come away with the conclusion that Kenny Ortega is a creepy bastard.
I don’t really know who this review is for. The film will only appeal to Jackson’s hardcore fan-base, who will buy the film regardless and will more than likely have stopped reading after the first sentence. I can’t imagine anyone else is particularly bothered. If you’re curious and haven’t seen the film yet, seriously don’t bother. It’s a very poor showing indeed. They didn’t have the materials to make a film that gave an interesting look at the making of the concert that never was.
So, only recommended for extremist Michael Jackson fans or people who like watching 2 hours of a frail man working out how best to dance himself into an impending grave.
2 stars for the bonus features. For quantity. There’s a great deal of content, but it’s just more of the same. After suffering through 2 hours of the film, I then had to suffer through nearly the same amount of time in bonus features of essentially the same material. I did this so that you won’t have to.
The bonus features are all extensions of the footage used in the film. Mostly expanded sections with clips of people who aren’t Michael Jackson. Given the nature of the film, all of the extra features could and should be considered highly unnecessary deleted scenes. Seriously, no one cares this much about what the dancers thought of Michael Jackson. Even their families surely aren’t that interested in what they have to say. There’s also the same with the band. There’s 10 minutes with the costume designers. Everyone who was involved in any way, there’s just lots of them prattling on about the most inane details about the concert.
Also included are the videos that would have been shown prior to the performances of Thriller and Smooth Criminal. Both are okay, but not as good as the original music videos. Thriller in particular is a high standard to reach and this new version doesn’t even come close.
‘Staging the Return’ is the strongest of the bonus features. It’s essentially a 40 minute alternate version of the main feature, but with no performance footage and a few bits at the end of people saying that they enjoyed making the film and that they’re very sad that Michael Jackson is dead. They continue to all sound disingenuous and a bit, if you’ll excuse the term, licky.
It should also be mentioned that there’s very little reason at all to buy this package on Blu-ray, if you have decided to buy it at all, as the picture never looks particularly good owing to the source material.
Michael Jackson’s This Is It is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.