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Michael Jackson's This Is It

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Rating: * * * *

Verdict: He was only practising, but this is Jacko's triumphant last stand.

If that was the rehearsal, then Michael Jackson's comeback concerts would have been a multimedia spectacle on a scale never seen before.

But Jackson died three weeks before his 50-date run at London's O2 Arena was to start and This Is It - the film made up of footage shot during rehearsals and pre-production for the shows - hints at what could have been.

A common thread running throughout the film is that these concerts were "for the fans" which is what This Is It's main focus is: to give the fans the concert they missed out on.

So for those hoping for a no-holds barred insight into arguably the greatest pop star who ever lived, or even some portent as to why he died on June 25, you're out of luck.

Nevertheless, there are some candid moments. Jackson demands perfection, yet he softens his criticsm with lines like, "It's all for love.

L-O-V-E. Love". And though he can be coy, cute, and charming, he's also prone to mini tantrums, like when he sulks about the volume in his earpieces sounding like "fists being driven into my ears".

Most telling of all though is how his back-up dancers, singers, and some of his players are clearly in awe of him. Singer Judith Hill doesn't know where to put her hands during her duet with him on I Just Can't Stop Loving You.

But this is a concert film, rather than a documentary, and as well as being for the fans it's about the music and the show.

As Jackson himself says in the film: "It's about taking them [fans] to places they have never been and showing them talent they have never seen."

So with his greatest hits as the foundation, including Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin Somethin', and a rousing Man In the Mirror, the film reveals how the production was to have had everything from aerial dancers a la Cirque Du Soleil, state of the art costuming, and, um, a bulldozer driving on stage to gobble up Jackson during Earth Song.

Also making up a big part of the film are the pre-filmed video segments, including new zombies and creatures lurching around a grave yard for the 2009 version of the Thriller video.

This Is It would have not been possible without the thorough documenting of the rehearsals by numerous cameras. And director Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) - who has worked with Jackson in the past and their working relationship seems to be based on equal parts friendship, ego-stroking and business - has come up with a cohesive film, not, as it could have been, something that looks cobbled together.

There is everything from interviews with teary wannabe Jackson back-up dancers ("You have to be an extension of the man," they are told), through to Jackson's consultations with his band ("You gotta let it simmer.") and, of course, his performances.

On slower songs like the Jackson 5's I'll Be There the 50-year-old shows his voice was still intact. And though his dance moves were a little more frail and restrained than in his heyday, the man was still able to move - no one did a moonwalk like Michael Jackson.

This Is It is for devout Jackson fans, but even if you enjoy casually grabbing your crotch to Billie Jean, or moonwalking to Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, it's worth seeing - if not at the cinema then when it comes out on DVD.

Scott Kara







Director: Kenny Ortega

Running time: 111 mins

Rating: G

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