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For A Fallen Star, One Final Chance To Shine
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For A Fallen Star, One Final Chance To Shine

Movies

For A Fallen Star, One Final Chance To Shine

For A Fallen Star, One Final Chance To Shine
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114088223/114253849" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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W Michael Jackson in 'This Is It' i

The King Rules: Rehearsals for a London concert series found Michael Jackson and his dancers working on a huge set. Spliced together in a concert movie, scenes from those rehearsals are a reminder of just how good Jackson was performing live. Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures
W Michael Jackson in 'This Is It'

The King Rules: Rehearsals for a London concert series found Michael Jackson and his dancers working on a huge set. Spliced together in a concert movie, scenes from those rehearsals are a reminder of just how good Jackson was performing live.

Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures

This Is It

  • Director: Kenny Ortega
  • Genre: Concert, Documentary
  • Running Time: 111 minutes

Rated PG: Sultry moves, indecently catchy music

With: Michael Jackson

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'The Drill'

Notes

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'Cue That'

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'Why Why'

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An elaborate 3-D "Thriller" graveyard, dancers leaping from spring-loaded trap doors, flames leaping from practically everywhere, and the point of it all — Michael Jackson — front and center.

It would've been quite a concert, from the looks of it.

Cobbled together by director Kenny Ortega from 100 hours of high-def rehearsal footage, This Is It serves up wall-to-wall music from a concert that wasn't to be, stopping now and again to interject welcome (if not terribly revealing) backstage glimpses of a hard-driving, perfectionist King of Pop in the last four months of his life. Ortega was the director of what was to have been a live London comeback gig, and since Jackson's death in June, he's become the keeper of the star's cinematic flame. He's made it seem as if, in rehearsal, Jackson is calling most of the shots — and creating all of the magic.

To answer the vaguely necrophilic question most viewers will have going in, Jackson looks healthy. Thin, but not painfully so. No obvious signs of sleep deprivation. He keeps up with or outdoes a company of pole-dancing aerialists, not to mention a squad of muscular backup dancers who look to be half his age.

Because the footage was shot for Jackson's private library rather than for exhibition, Ortega doesn't have access to the extra camera angles and cover shots that would allow him to cut away every few seconds. Which is a good thing: For once, you can actually watch the dance moves.

Where another performer might simply hold a note, Jackson holds it while doing hip thrusts, a crotch grab, a twirl or two, and skittering ankle twists that propel him across the stage as if solid floorboards were a conveyor belt.

Michael Jackson in 'Smooth Criminal' i

Jackson and his crew rehearse his hit "Smooth Criminal" in Los Angeles. In the song's intro, This Is It inserts the pop star into a filmed sequence alongside movie gangster Edward G. Robinson and bombshell Rita Hayworth. Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures
Michael Jackson in 'Smooth Criminal'

Jackson and his crew rehearse his hit "Smooth Criminal" in Los Angeles. In the song's intro, This Is It inserts the pop star into a filmed sequence alongside movie gangster Edward G. Robinson and bombshell Rita Hayworth.

Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures

When the director is being playful with technical aspects of the stage show — turning 11 backup dancers into 1,100, say, or choreographing a black-and-white sequence in which Rita Hayworth seems to throw the formerly Gloved One her own glove — you get a feel for what might have been in that concert. A heal-the-planet bit involving a little girl and digitized butterflies looks misjudged, but Ortega is on firm ground when he's showing Jackson simply working — tentative at times, and seemingly unguarded, performing at a level that might not cut it in front of an audience but that is clearly getting there.

Though the star says several times that he's preserving his voice, there's nothing in This Is It that will diminish Jackson in the eyes of fans. And there's plenty that will impress folks who know his work only from music videos and recordings. If you're looking for some insight into the star — or even a full-screen closeup of his surgically sculpted face — This Is It won't be it. But if you're looking for showmanship and powerhouse performing, it's everywhere.

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