On 25 June Michael Jackson died suddenly at the age of 50 and just weeks ahead of the start of his 'This Is It' final-ever live tour. Millions of fans around the world mourned and thousands were disappointed that they would not now get to see the King of Pop live in concert at London's O2 Arena.
But never let a little thing like death stand in the way of the world of entertainment making a buck off the Jackson name. Now fans can see the man with the quicksilver feet in action after all with the release of this behind-the-scenes film of rehearsals for that doomed tour.
When parts of the video of MJ's rehearsals in Los Angeles came to light shortly after the singer's death, his management was quick to dismiss criticism of the performance by those who said that the star had lost his sheen. Judge for yourself with this 112-minute film of those rehearsals that were filmed from March to June of this year, just before Jackson's death.
Some 80 hours of footage, purportedly originally filmed for Jackson's personal library, was used to mesh together a documentary of what the show was meant to be. There are no interviews with the star but some of those involved in the production do talk about working on the show. The first batch, with some of the dancers when they auditioned, could fit easily into an 'X Factor'-style show, complete with tears and expressions of dreams coming true etc, etc. In fact, some of the dancers' interviews seem very staged. Thankfully there are only a few minutes of that element. The film is really about the concert and we get to see and hear Jackson perform a dozen or so songs, not all in their entirety, but enough to give a taste of what was planned.
But much of what we see is Jackson’s dancing rehearsal-style and not singing. He does say a number of times that he is saving his voice for the real performance - undoubtedly left in the film to stave off any criticism of his singing. Although when he does sing you get to see flashes of the artist that won worldwide poplarity for his vocal ability.
There have been suggestions that body-doubles were used in order to complete the film, and there are a couple of times where it appears that this might have been the case, but they are not when Jackson performs on stage. The film also shows a number of special-effect 3-D films that would have been used in the 02 concerts but we will never get to see them as they were meant to be seen alongside the dazzling costumes, using state-of-the-art styles incorporating Swarovski crystal, performances by aerialists, and Jackson skimming across the audience in a cherry-picker.
If you expect to see 'Wacko Jacko' in this film you will be disappointed. There is only one point in the film where Jackson's eccentricity really shows through. When thanking the performers for their hard work, he ends by telling them he loves them, as was his wont, but he then says he loves the planet too and informs the group that "we only have four years left" to save the earth. Besides that incident, there are no other insights into Jackson other than as an entertainer, who is not only a performer but a perfectionist. Although he appears to be rather meek, he in fact seems very definite about his vision of the concert and what he wants and expects from everyone involved.
This film has the trademark Jackson moves: moon-walk, crotch-grabbing and high-pitched squeals, albeit lacking the zeal that would presumably have been present at the live shows. At times Jackson does look tired and very frail and while he was able to keep up with his dancers, it's clear that he was holding back. Given the task he had taken on and the demands that he put on himself to reach exacting standards of performance, I doubt that he would have been able to complete the series of concerts in London. But had he met the monumental task, there is no doubt it would have been an amazing experience.
Whatever your opinion about Jackson's personal life, there is no denying he was a true entertainer. His whole life was about performance and in death, as in life, for Michael Jackson the show must go on. This film gives a taste of what we had seen in the past and hints at what might have been but whether the King of Pop would have been able to pull off the 50 concerts will never be known... so 'This Is It'.
The film has a two-week limited engagement around the world, which is expected to be extended.