It’s understandable that Michael Jackson’s This Is It has become a controversial issue among fans. The film showcases Jackson’s indescribable talent and creative vision, cementing his status as the most amazing entertainer of all time, but will leave audiences with a bittersweet feeling in light of his untimely death.
This Is It brilliantly uses dancers, musicians and crew as a sort of narrative device, beginning with a group of young dancers emotionally describing their joy at being chosen to perform with their idol and ending with the same group watching in awe as Jackson rehearses some of his most iconic songs. The audience can instantly identify with these dancers and it helps to put the immense scale of Jackson’s talent into perspective. Sure, your everyday person is amazed by Jackson’s moves, but to see a crowd of highly trained professionals completely enthralled in the performance further elevates Jackson’s status as a kind of superhero entertainer.
Yet unlike Superman, Jackson was mortal, and the film also tragically shows a living superhero dealing with his own limitations. We’re all used to seeing footage of Jackson from his dazzling performance on Motown 25 in which he first debuted the Moonwalk or in his red leather jacket from the “Thriller” music video, but it’s easy to forget that those classic images are from more than two decades ago. Watching the 50-year-old Jackson thrill the small crowd at rehearsal makes you see how hard he was pushing himself to please his fans and instantly conjures up concerns about pain, weight, and other health issues that may have plagued him. You know he was willing to put himself through anything to please a crowd, and you feel a bit guilty about being part of the global audience who had (and continues to have) and insatiable appetite for all things MJ.
In the same vein, it’s hard not to question whether Jackson would have wanted the film released in the first place. He was a notorious perfectionist and, while his rehearsals are better than most concerts today, it still feels like you’re seeing something private. It’s impossible to resist wanting a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, but again, it’s also easy to feel guilty after seeing something you know wasn’t intended for mass audiences.
Regardless of the conflicting feelings that might be dredged up by This Is It, the film is still lasting evidence of just how amazing Jackson truly was. Even toned down, he’s spectacular. The insight into his hands-on approach and visionary creative drive prove that he was not only a brilliant performer, but also an overall entertainment genius whose talent will never be matched. The real tragedy is knowing the way the story ended.