October 28, 2009, - 12:35 am

This Is Good: Insider “This Is It” Far Exceeds Expectations

By Debbie Schlussel

Had he lived, one thing is for certain.  Michael Jackson’s concert would have been amazing (minus the global warming/green BS).


This Is It,” out in theaters today, chronicles rehearsals for the late Jackson’s planned fifty concert dates in a tour of the same name.  I expected to hate it.  But I was pleasantly surprised. It shows us a Michael Jackson who was intensely involved in every note, every shot, every movement of his show. We see an intense perfectionist, but also a guy who was extremely nice to all in his crew and respected and loved by them.  (At the end of his rehearsals, Jackson verbally returns the feeling, telling his dancers, musicians and assorted crew, “I love you.  We’re all family.”)

“This Is It” is the next best thing to going to a Jackson concert.  Audiences will see not just Jackson and his dancers performing many of his major hits, but also elaborate videos–essentially mini-movies–shot to go along with them and be shown on-stage at his shows.

Michael Jackson is clearly not the dying, out-of-it druggie we were told about.  The movie consistently shows us a Michael Jackson who is not the sickly, exhausted, weak, but a guy who has more energy at age 50 than most men have at age 30.  I was amazed at his strength and stamina, even if his legs were bone thin.  Jackson’s non-stop dance moves and endless supply of energy through long rehearsals are simply fascinating.  And he’s extremely lucid, engaging, and funny (sometimes unintentionally).

Jackson’s talent to hear specific notes and insist on them with his crew, as well as his acute sense of timing–all on display here as he instructs his production staff–show the genius of Michael Jackson.  We’ve heard that word, genius, casualy used to describe Jackson  far too many times.  But this movie shows it to us in spades.

And while some of the singing appears dubbed in, most of it is Michael Jackson’s undoctored voice, still mellifluous and able to reach very high notes at the usually limiting age fifty.

The sets, the videos, the costumes–a good deal of which we see–are amazing, whether it’s the newly-shot scary video and costumes for “Thriller,” or the giant spider out of which Jackson appears.

Also fascinating is phenomenal 24-year-old Australian blonde female lead guitarist, Orianthi Panagaris, the best female guitarist I’ve ever seen or heard.  She’s spectacular–the female Joe Satriani–and Jackson tells  her to shine as he helps direct her electric slide solo.  Also cool is extremely talented guitarist, Tommy Organ.

While we never really know what people are like when the cameras are turned off, what’s most notable in this movie are not just Jackson’s singing, dancing, and musical talent and that he’s completely in control of his faculties, physique, and composure.  No, what comes through here even more than any of those things is what a nice guy Jackson seems to be.  Even when he’s briefly in pain or disagrees, he’s nice and calm to an amazing degree and good to the people around him.  In contrast is his sycophantic, cheesy tour director, Kenny Ortega.  I also note that Jackson–despite all of the interviews and articles noting his estrangement from father, Joe Jackson–specifically asks during the performance of a medley of  Jackson Five songs, “May G-d Bless Joseph and Katharine.”

I could have done without “environmental scholar” Michael Jackson’s pronouncement that “we only have four years left to repair the damage” we’ve caused through our “mismanagement of the planet.”  Spare me.  This is a guy who flew in private planes and used more energy with mansions and concert halls than an entire rural town.  And Jackson made clear that this was “the important message I want to relay with my concert,” complete with little girl with an Arabic tattoo on her forehead, watching her jungle forest destroyed by a bulldozer.  But other than that politically correct absurdity, the documentary was politics-free.

While I felt the hype and revisionist worship of Michael Jackson after his death was excessive to the nth, “This Is It” shows what a tragedy it was that this incredible talent died before his time.  It also shows that he was in great shape and not on his way to his death bed–not even close–just days before he tragically passed away.

Frankly, “This Is It” is a far better tribute to the late Michael Jackson than all of the phony tributes and monologues delivered at his memorial service, this past summer.

It’s a little long, but akin to a full-length Jackson concert.  If you’re not a Michael Jackson fan, this movie isn’t for you, and you might be bored.  But if you are, it’s well done and well worth your $10.    Go see it.

This Is It:  This Was Worth It.


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14 Responses

Debbie – I only know you vicariously through your writings but I can’t imagine you going to a Michael Jackson concert. Sort of like, as one wag saying years ago, “seeing Sydney Greenstreet staying at a Howard Johnsons”.

Not that I am comparing you to Sydney Greenstreet 😉

I wonder if Michael Jackson;s death will be as Elvis’ – where yet another wag said (upon learning of his death) “Good Career Move”.

B: Not only would I have loved to attend a Michael Jackson concert–the guy was a great showman–but I liked staying at Howard Johnson’s a/k/a HoJo’s, too. I liked a good number of Jackson’s songs, which have been part of my workout music for years. Also, you are correct about the career move. On Tuesday Night, ABC News’ “Nightline” reported that Jackson has surpassed Elvis and the third biggest dead celebrity earner. DS

Bill Brandt on October 28, 2009 at 1:40 am

Hi Deb and thanks for the interesting review. I (actually “we) have a couple of questions for you:

1. Who is getting the profits, royalties and proceeds from this film? (Mrs. T asked that one).

2. What can you say about some of the very public allegations that the movie employed “dance doubles” and other special effects to re-create Michael Jackson as a more vibrant person?

TINSC: The Jackson Family Trust (which goes to the kids ultimately) is what gets most of the profits, as well as producers Kenny Ortega and AEG. The “doubles” allegation was put out by Joe Jackson who is trying to get money from the estate and was left none. It’s bunk. The video is quite clear. It’s him. DS

There is NO Santa Claus on October 28, 2009 at 6:14 am

No thanks. I’m still having a hard time with the whole pedophilia thing he will always be attached to. I also have to wonder who gets the bucks now.

Joe on October 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

Michael Jackson for all his oddness, was the greatest pop performer of my generation. Truly talented (particularly early 70’s to late 80’s), unlike all the other mainstream pop dancers the media wants us to believe have any talent.

Did he get weird and crazy and perverse as he got older? Yes, so did James Brown, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and other legends.

Airy on October 28, 2009 at 10:15 am

I repeat, MJ is the most overrated act in history. He was an act. A curiosity. He started that herky-jerky style of dancing where they fling their head around. That’ll give you brain damage. Moonwalk was good, I admit. Elvis could sing. MJ whispered in a falsetto.

MJ was no Sammy Davis Jr.

This movie was edited. He did not dance “non stop”.

L: And you know this because you were there? Please. You didn’t see the movie. It’s him and it’s quite clear. He DID dance non-stop. You can tell when a movie’s edited to fake things. This was the real deal. DS

lexi on October 28, 2009 at 10:51 am

He was a poor soul and the result of a magnificently marketed modicum of talent.

jazbo on October 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm


It appears that you like Satch. Have you checked out Chickenfoot? Would love to see your review.

RW on October 28, 2009 at 3:12 pm

M.A.A.N. — Much ado about nothing.

“To each his/her own.”

Max Abel on October 28, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Thank you for glorifying a sexual pervert.

J: Never proven that he was. Not saying he was or wasn’t. We just don’t know for sure, either way. DS

Joe on October 28, 2009 at 4:07 pm

If I have to choose sexual predators, I’ll take Polanski. Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby were brilliant. At least his nose wasn’t removeable.

lexi on October 28, 2009 at 7:02 pm

lexi that’s very good. How about Jerry Lee Lewis? It was a family affair. Plus Dennis Quaid was dead on.

After reading that he really was in great shape one has to wonder at the work out it must have been chasing those little boys around Neverland.

Joe on October 29, 2009 at 12:29 am


Just saw the movie with my 13 year old son, who loves the music and the dancing of MJ. I was also struck by how hard he worked during rehersals and how in tune he was with the music. People forget that he created the music and lyrics, not with instruments but with his mind and his ear and his vocalization. I thought it was fascinating when he would get carried away during rehersals and say that he had to stop to save his voice. You are right on about the timing and knowing exactly the sound he wanted at teh exact right moment in the show. Also the dancers were awesome, as was the guitarist. Could have done without the lame enviro part. But overall both my son and I enjoyed the movie.

Oh yeah, I know this is one of your peeves, there was a 3 or 4 year boy singing and dancing in the aisle, I guess it could have been annoying if it wasn’t so dang cute, we went to an early show, so it wasn’t very crowded.

Dave on October 30, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Your review nailed it, Debbie. I am not, nor have I ever been, a Michael Jackson fan, even though I marginally liked some of his music. On the basis of your review, I saw this movie because I was interested in Jackson as a person and the circumstances surrounding his death. It is a very good movie; and Jackson is completely energetic, coherent, respectful and respected, and in control of the entire show. I came away depressed, actually, because I thought this is a man whose life was cut tragically short, and why? Nothing that I saw indicated a sickly person, so why, exactly, did he die such an untimely death.

Timothy Sable on November 2, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Debbie –

Great review, said everything I thought as I watched this movie.
I have to admit that I was embarrassed to want to see this movie, partly because I didn’t know where the money was going to and partly because of the things that Jackson has been accused of over the years.
I was in elementary school during the “Beat It” and ” Thriller” phase of Jackson’s career and it was incredible, we spent many hours on the school playground watching the boy’s break dance, and everyone wanted to moonwalk. So… I finally broke down and asked my husband if he would go, and he was eager to go as well. I was really pleased with the movie and found it very insightful in the man. I have always thought the use of the world genius in reference to Michael Jackson was strange -but I now understand it, he was a musical genius he can hear and picture how things should sound in his mine and explain to people how to produces those sounds in ways that are beyond me. I was also impressed with his calmness in situations that became frustrating, where many others would at least raise their voice he remained calm and re-explained his wishes, coaching the person, until they understood what he was looking for. It was an interesting film, and surprisingly complete. He had taken a lot of footage of practice, it also looked like they had inserted some footage that was not from this time frame. In particular the footage where he was wearing a blue outfit and a pony-tail looked like a younger MJ. But I was pretty impressed by the amount of actual footage they had to work with.
Whatever one thinks of Michael Jackson, I think it is hard not to be impressed by how awesome this concert would have been. But, yes, we all could have done without the footage of the burning Rainforest and the little girl –
I to, walked away from the movie going wow – he sure didn’t seem like a closet drug addict…

Jill on November 9, 2009 at 11:37 pm

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