This is It posterMichael Jackson has always been a bit of controversial figure, opinion divided on the man behind the music, James Prescott takes a look at This Is It, directed by Kenny Ortega and released last week.

Often in death, people look beyond the controversy and look to the best of someone, yet there seems to have been as much controversy about him since his death as in life.

In particular there has been a bit of controversy around “˜This Is It’, a film essentially about his last weeks, primarily focussing on his rehearsals for the tour that never was. I was surprised going in to see the sheer numbers of people,  of all sorts of ages, who were attending. There was clearly genuine interest, and speaking to someone beforehand who had seen it, he merely said “˜It’s awesome’. Clearly, more interest than the media had led many to believe.

I’ve always been a person who tries to see the best in people, and in particular as a Jackson fan I’m of the opinion that whatever you think of his character and his behaviour off stage (and no doubt it was controversial and questionable), there is no doubt that Jackson was one of the most talented and successful musicians/entertainers of both our or any generation. This film goes some way as to showing you why.

The film starts with a little prologue, setting the context. But the first film you see, with interviews with potential dancers before the auditions, it almost seems like a fake. Like it was all staged. But before long you realize, this is no fake.

this is it jackson 1

The format essentially is showing the rehearsals and live performances by Jackson of the majority of songs – both his own and those he sang with the Jacksons – that he was going to perform at the show, interspersed with interviews with the different people involved behind the scenes. For many of the tracks they don’t just show the rehearsals, but all the work behind the stage show, including blue screen work and constumes. What becomes clear is that if this tour had gone ahead as planned, it would have been one of the greatest stage shows ever. The amount of work going into this beyond rehearsals was incredible. Shooting new video for different tracks, building elaborate sets and pushing the boundaries of creativity, as Jackson always did. As part of this, they actually show you cuts of different rehearsals by Jackson performing these tracks, with the video and stage show, almost as if you were there. Some of it is truly phenomenal.

You also get a glimpse of the genius and sheer work ethic of Jackson. Although shy and quiet, in terms of his work he was clearly an absolute perfectionist, wanting every dance move, every note, every instrument, every shot absolutely perfect, and encouraging and challenging the people around him to be better, not resting until things were absolutely perfect. He was involved in every aspect of the show, and choreographed all of the on stage work himself. He worked immensely hard, and demanded the absolute best of himself and others. To me there is no doubt – and some have said this since his death – that he saw this tour as a chance of not just the redemption, but resurrection of his career. It may well have been.

this isit jackson 3

Yet there are also signs towards the end of the film – and the end of rehearsals, that he was tired. He occasionally misses out words in his songs – deliberately, to preserve his voice (understandable, with 50 dates to play), and although all the moves are there dance-wise, especially at the beginning of rehearsals, towards the end of rehearsals he finds it harder to sustain. Would he have made the 50 dates? I’m not sure, but I think certainly he would have needed a lot of rest in between to complete them.

But he still had “˜it’. The moves. The voice. The vision and creativity – it was all still there, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is the real Jackson – despite what others have speculated.

Director Kenny Ortega, who worked with Jackson for many years and famously directed the “˜High School Musical’ films, emerges with a lot of credit. With so many hours of footage to work with, the way he blends all the different segments, in particular within the performances, and blends them with behind the scenes segments and the visuals from the shows is excellent. The film is very much a labour of love on his part and that comes through very clearly.

this is it ortega

From the very beginning it is clear to whom the film is targeted, with the line on screen ‘To the fans’, and that is clearly the maxim all the way through. The film is very clearly targeted at Jackson fans and those interested in the man behind the music, and focussed on the best of Jackson, ignoring all the controversy surrounding him completely. For its target group, this film is well worth watching. In some ways it strips away the aura of Jackson the megastar. Instead it shows him as a flesh and blood man,  one of exceptional talent and vision. A professional dedicated to his craft who was determined to be successful again, and who was working hard to give his fans the best stage show possible in the process.

For those not remotely interested in Jackson, then I would say its probably not worth watching. But to be honest, it’s not really aimed at those people anyway.

I only wish we had got to see the final result of all the work Jackson and all those working on the project had put in, it would have been a sight to behold. Jackson live and at his best with the stage show and visuals/blue screen shots all added in, it would have been some concert.

It shows what made Jackson the star he was, and proves that his success was no accident, but was down to a unique combination of talent, vision, passion, creativity, star quality and sheer hard work.

It also gives a glimpse, maybe, of what could have been.