On October 28, Sony Pictures released the much-anticipated movie “Michael Jackson’s This Is It.” The movie was conceived after the worldwide outpouring of grief following the mega-superstar’s death on June 25. In the months prior, Michael Jackson was rehearsing for what would have been a comeback to the stage after more than a decade away from the performance limelight.
The rehearsals were recorded, with the recordings originally intended for Jackson’s personal collection. However, with Jackson’s death, this footage was the only way for the world to see whether the King of Pop still had what it takes to entertain and marvel the world.
Enter AEG Live (Jackson’s original concert promoter) and Sony Pictures. In a contentious bidding process, Sony dished out $60 million for more than 100 hours of rehearsal and backstage footage. After working around the clock between July and October, this footage was compiled into a two-hour concert-movie meets documentary film. The hype around the release was unprecedented with Sony planning to premiere the movie in 100 countries simultaneously. Advertising the movie as a “limited” two-week release, the presale ticket period broke records around the world. Before the movie was even released, Sony had recouped its $60 million investment. So does the movie leave the audience with wonder and amazement with Jackson’s skills as an entertainer, or do people leave asking “This is it?”
I started listening to Michael Jackson at the age of four. Ever since, I have been a diehard fan, always wanting and hoping to see him perform live one day. I was one of the million or so people travelling to London this summer to see him perform live – which would have been a dream come true. So for me, seeing this movie was both emotional and provided a sense of closure. Emotional because it kept reminding me of how great the show would have been had I seen it live; closure, because it gave me a sense of whether Michael still lived up to the title of “King of Pop.”
The movie demonstrates that the show was created to be a true reflection on Michael’s career, which stretched for more than four decades. In the fast-paced, dance-packed performances, he proves that even at the age of 50, he still had the moves, the energy, and the creative drive to give the audience a show they could not get from any other artist living today. In the slower, ballad-like numbers, Michael demonstrates the power of his voice, having planned to sing all of the songs live on stage (rumor had it that MJ would perform to playback tracks of his songs for the London shows). In fact, despite his voice sounding phenomenal, on several occasions he “apologizes” for the quality of his singing, because he is trying to “save his voice.”
In between the different cuts of the planned performances, a human side of Michael is revealed – one that in all of the years of bad tabloid press, rumors and negative publicity was lost on fans and the general public alike. It shows Jackson as a creative powerhouse, dictating every aspect of the show and creating it first in his mind, then translating it to the stage. It also shows a childlike creature. There were definitely points in the movie when one senses that this is a man that never quite grew up and continued living his life as a child, even at age 50. However, his brilliance and creative energy are also showcased. Having never learned how to read or write musical notes, he
works with his musicians on the musical arrangements by humming the tones he wants to hear. He also gives the dancers, back-up singers and band members “their moment to shine” (as he calls it). While being a tough, no-nonsense perfectionist about the creation he wants to share with the world, Michael
demonstrates the gentle, caring nature that drove him throughout his entire career and was still ever-present in the final days of his life.
Is this movie a must-see? If you’re not a Michael Jackson fan, probably not. But will it give you an opportunity to see the man who is likely the most misunderstood person of our time in a new light, appreciating his talent and creative brilliance once again? Probably. The theater run of the movie has been extended through Thanksgiving, so there are still plenty of opportunities to catch the movie on the big screen. Sony Pictures (in an effort to maximize profits from an artist they have benefited from since the early 1980s) plans to release the DVD in time for the Christmas shopping season.
Whichever way you catch it, in a time when music has lost its depth and meaning, it is refreshing to see that Michael still cared about his audience, the world and how his texts were applicable to today’s world. While he, as the ultimate perfectionist, would probably not want the world to see him in this imperfect, back-stage, rehearsal-frame-of-mind self, the movie provides a window into the final days of a superstar who influences virtually every major artist in the pop music scene today. So, in my humble opinion, this is a worthy tribute to the King of Pop and a reminder of the joy that a single man’s talent can bring to the world.
Mladen is a first-year student from Toronto. He attended the University of Calgary and worked in consulting prior to HBS.
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