When Michael Jackson died he was famously a few days short of starting a series of 50 concerts being billed as his last go round, years and ugly scandals after his last shows.  He'd sold tens of millions of dollars worth of tickets.  He'd been rehearsing a huge event show - the only kind of show for the King of Pop.  With the excitement and buzz built to a peak, he fell over dead without doing a single show.  Befitting his status as one of the ultimate show business icons, he certainly at least filled the maxim that you should leave your audience wanting more.

So what we ended up with for all that was a hastily assembled film of his rehearsals, Michael Jackson This Is It.  Naturally this was a big worldwide box office smash.  But even with somewhat lowered expectations based on the circumstances, this film was a pretty substantial disappointment.  There's pretty much nothing here that represents Michael Jackson in a top level performance. 

I don't necessarily hold that as a mark against Michael Jackson.  This footage was not intended to be seen by an audience, much less as a major feature film.  I had been hoping that we'd get something at least halfway close to a full dress rehearsal of the big show, but this footage was nowhere close to that stage.  Minimal of this had anyone in costume, including Michael himself.  Sets were not fully decorated or filled out.  Few of the songs could be described as full performances - good or bad.  They're mic checks and half strength singing as the purpose at the moment in teaching the crew their steps and cues.

Most of all, none of this involves Michael Jackson actually trying to sing in a full manner.  He repeatedly protests that he shouldn't be singing as hard as he is during a rehearsal, that he needs to save his throat.  That seems like the proper and sensible professional thing for him to have been doing, but doesn't make for compelling viewing for us.  Wasn't meant to.

Some of the most interesting stuff was little bits of new video shot for these concerts.  He comes at the "Smooth Criminal" a slightly different way by inserting himself into a Humphrey Bogart movie.  Most especially, he did have some groovy new backing footage for "Thriller."  It's not any major re-interpretation of the material, but he did have some extra groovy spooky new and improved undead.

This movie would be really of the most legitimate interest to aspiring dancers or choreographers.  You might well pick up some clues from just watching this consummate professional attending to business. 

Of course, a lot of people just obsess on Michael Jackson as one of the ultimate cult-of-personality objects in the history of electronic media.  A good many of these people would be fascinated by a recording of Michael Jackson passing gas.  If you're in that category, then this movie is one of the greatest films of all time.  Anyone more demanding shouldn't get their hopes up here.


On the other hand, people who are mostly interested in Michael Jackson's art already had a much better alternative.  I don't know that it was ever even theatrically released, but Michael Jackson - Live in Bucharest from 1992 is the full monty.  It's pretty much the opposite from the This Is It scrap heap.  There is absolutely no backstage footage, or any distraction.  Start with a couple of minutes of the crowd filing in and the lights going down, and suddenly there's MJ on stage in full effect.  Michael Jackson pours it all out, in full effect with the costumes, sets, dancers, video.  One fully realized concert performance, period.  By the time he jet-packs off the stage into the night at the end, you've seen what the man was capable of doing on a stage.  Anything else stuck on there would only detract from the magic.

Often, singers get their peak on stage right at the tail end of their musically creative moment.  Michael Jackson was touring here on Dangerous, which was his last major musical statement.  So he had all of his good songs here to work with, and all 17 years younger and fresher than his dead man dancing moves of 2009.  This is what you need to see if you want the Michael Jackson concert experience on video.


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