On the 25th of June 2009, at the age of fifty years old, pop superstar Michael Jackson died. What left his fans feeling even more bereft was that he had spent the last few months preparing a major series of comeback concerts to be staged in London, fifty in all, one for each of his golden anniversary year, and he had been rehearsing almost up to the point of his death. Now there was no way anyone would see what he had in mind - or was there? Jackson's choreographer Kenny Ortega and his team had been filming the rehearsals as a method of perfecting the routines and accoutrements for the show, and had hours of footage the director decided to release in an edited compilation to celebrate the man and illustrate what the performances would have been like...
Well, it was better than nothing. Shoo-in for the vaguest title for a movie ever, This Is It was regarded by the cynics as a cash-in on an artist who was still making money for his hangers on after his demise, and comments that death was a great career move were not far behind, though it had to be said appearing in a run of sold out concerts would have been a far better way of generating funds, plus there would be the bonus that he would still have been alive to enjoy the proceeds at the end of it. There were rumours that Jackson's enormous fortune had been frittered away by the end of his life and that was the main reason he was making these shows, but the questions as to the reasons for his death were more pressing.
Which not only placed This Is It under more scrutiny, but added a strong, ghoulish element into the bargain as you found yourself trying to see just how much this exertion was taking it out of Jackson, and noting that he looked painfully thin. It was difficult to discern from his face how sick he was since he had ruined his features with excessive cosmetic surgery, so while he looked terrible as far as that went, this had been the case for the last few years of his existence as his appearance steadily grew more grotesque. Nevertheless, Jackson was moving better for a man of fifty than many other people of that age, if anything judging by the footage he was overdoing it, throwing in extravagant, jerky moves into even his slowest songs that did not really need them.
Vocally, Jackson could still hit the high notes and did undoubtedly sound like himself, though we were not offered a full performance of the songs as he evidently didn't feel the need to belt out the tunes when this was not going to be broadcast as far as he knew. This offered the experience of watching the film the feel of viewing an extended DVD extra with candid backstage footage that told you very little about what its subject was actually like aside from the earnest, naive persona he preferred to convey. It's worth remembering that Jackson had been more retiring from the limelight of fame since his previous concert in 2001 because of the allegations against him regarding child abuse, coupled with some PR disasters that may not have been of the same magnitude - the Martin Bashir documentary, hanging his youngest child over a hotel room's high balcony in Germany - but did little to build his once rock solid fanbase.
Therefore you could perceive an optimism in Jackson from those clips that finally, by getting back to what he did best which was entertaining an audience rather than creeping or freaking them out, he had a genuine chance of getting back into the cultural good books, and not simply play to the gallery of terminally uncritical fans who treated him like a God among men. That had been as much his fault as theirs, beginning in the nineteen-eighties when Thriller became the biggest album of all time Jackson appeared to start believing his own publicity, culminating in the embarrassment of Earth Song and its video depicting him as nothing less than the saviour of all mankind, not to mention the entire planet to boot. We see him go through the motions of that on the stage, looking depressingly like the farcical show Jarvis Cocker amusingly interrupted thanks to Jackson's hubris. Elsewhere, there wasn't a song here most wouldn't recognise, from Billie Jean to Smooth Criminal, and it certainly did look as if it would have been a great night out even if oh so many issues remained.