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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I've you're a big Michael Jackson fan, chances are you already have plans to see the concert film "This Is It." It comes out today. Thousands of showings in the U.S. and around the world had already sold out last week before anyone but studio execs had seen the film, which might make reviews irrelevant, but Bob Mondello has one anyway.

BOB MONDELLO: It would've been quite a concert, from the looks of the rehearsal footage.

(Soundbite of film, "This Is It")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Singer): I've got to cue that. I've got to cue that.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Mr. JACKSON: That should trigger on its own.

Unidentified Man #1: That should be a special on…

Mr. JACKSON: It can't trigger on its own.

Unidentified Man #1: …our girl(ph).

(Soundbite of song, "The Way You Make Me Feel")

MONDELLO: The "This Is It" concerts were to blend live performance with film sequences, a 3-D "Thriller" graveyard bit so elaborate, it turns into a sort of phantom of the sports arena, dancers leaping from spring-loaded trap doors, Rita Hayworth tossing the former gloved one her glove, and the point of it all, Michael Jackson front and center.

(Soundbite of song, "The Way You Make Me Feel")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) I never felt so in love before. Just promise, baby, you'll love me forevermore.

MONDELLO: Cobbled together by director Kenny Ortega from more than 100 hours of high-definition rehearsal footage, "This Is It" has music from a concert that wasn't to be, interrupted by unrevealing but welcome backstage glimpses of a hard-driving King of Pop in the last four months of his life. Ortega was the director of what was to have been London's live comeback concerts. After Jackson's death in June, he became the keeper of the star's cinematic flame. He's made it seem as if, in rehearsal, a perfectionist Jackson is calling most of the shots and creating all of the magic.

(Soundbite of film, "This Is It")

Unidentified Man #2: Michael, do you like this, first of all?

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah, that's a cool move.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay.

Mr. JACKSON: Cool move. (Unintelligible) stretch out too much at the end.

MONDELLO: To answer the vaguely necrophilic question many 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 and 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 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 see the dance moves, Jackson punctuating every lyric with hip thrusts, crotch grabs, twirls and skittering ankle twists that propel him across the stage as if solid floorboards were a conveyor belt.

(Soundbite of film, "This is It")

(Soundbite of song, "They Don't Care About Us")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Skinhead, deadhead, everybody gone bad. Situation, aggravation, everybody allegation. In the suite, on the news, everybody dog food.

MONDELLO: When the director is playing with technical aspects of the stage show, you get a feel for what might have been in concert. I could have done without a heal-the-planet bits involving a little girl and digitized butterflies, but Ortega is on firm ground whenever he's showing Jackson simply working: tentative at times, performing at a level that might not cut it in front of an audience but is clearly getting there.

(Soundbite of film, "This is It")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Get me out.

Mr. JACKSON: Bam, something right there.

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Into the nighttime for walls won't hold me tonight.

MONDELLO: There's nothing in "This Is It" that will diminish Jackson in the eyes of fans and 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 close-up of his surgically sculpted face, "This Is It" won't be it. But if you're looking for showmanship, it's everywhere.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of song, "Human Nature")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) They say why, why? Tell them that it's human nature. Why, why does he do me that way? Reaching out into the nighttime, electric eyes are everywhere. See that girl, she knows I'm watching. She likes the way I stare. If they say why, why? Tell them that it's human nature. Why, why does he do me that way? They say why, why? Tell them that it's human nature. Why, why…

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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