Michael Jackson's This Is It Kenny Ortega

Michael Jackson's This Is It Kenny Ortega
Even in the raw and fragmentary behind-the-scenes footage we see in Michael Jackson's This Is It, it's not hard to see what Jackson was trying to accomplish with his aborted 2009 comeback tour: bring back memories of his glory days by performing his greatest hits, and frame them within an over-the-top spectacle of entertainment to prove to a jaded public that he "still had it." "Thriller," "Billie Jean," "Black or White" and others are revived with elaborate dance numbers, short film interludes and a downright rococo use of special effects.

Even in this facsimile form, one thing is obvious: Jackson was one hell of an entertainer, determined to deliver one hell of a spectacle. More or less spanning Jackson's career, including a few Jackson 5 numbers, the show would have been like a greatest hits album on Red Bull and speed.

I wonder how this tour would have been received had Jackson lived? I can't help but suspect that this unabashed nostalgia-fest might have been greeted with muted enthusiasm ― a handsome but tacky spectacle by a performer trying to reconnect with his glory days. In the wake of Jackson's death, the world has been freed from its disenchantment and an unabashed nostalgia-fest will probably be just fine, thank you.

I definitely found This Is It nostalgic, but in a strange and haunting way. To hear these iconic songs again in full, thumping stereo is to be reminded of a time when Michael Jackson was among the most powerful and beloved people on Earth. To see the rail-thin, surgically distorted late-period Jackson discussing choreography with director Kenny Ortega or rambling semi-coherently about the destruction of the environment is to be reminded of the sad, creepy owner of Neverland Ranch. To see him rehearsing in This Is It is to be acutely aware of both versions of the man uneasily coexisting. As entertaining and talented as he was, seeing late period Jackson perform "Thriller" is a bit like being reminded that once you've grown up, you can't go home again.

Before seeing This Is It, remember that this is very much a home movie, with static camerawork, unflattering angles and uneven sound quality ― Jackson's singing is often hard to hear, drowned out by a powerful bass section that I'll bet was enhanced for theatrical release. Unavoidably, it is not very cinematic, and its cobbled-together nature will be of greatest appeal to die-hard completists. Even then, I doubt it will hold much replay value.

Still, it's interesting to be given such an unfiltered look at Jackson's creative process. He really does come across like a big kid, giddy with enthusiasm and possessing a deep feeling and understanding for his art, but not very articulate ("I'm sizzling," he explains to Ortega after intentionally missing a cue).

The biggest revelation of all maybe shouldn't be such a surprise: even late in his life, exhausted, rail-thin and in uneven health, this guy was one extraordinary dancer. That's worth the price of admission. (Sony)