"This Is It" gives us back Michael Jackson -- and that's why it's thrilling and comforting and an absolutely fitting tribute to the entertainer who died in June. This is the Jackson we knew and loved, not the freaky subject of endless tabloid and cable coverage.
It reminds us why he was such a remarkable performer, without any of the excess baggage that accompanied coverage of his shocking death. It's just MJ singing, dancing, directing, choreographing, fretting that his voice won't hold (it does, although he babies it a bit) and moving like few other 50-year-olds can.
The documentary has no mention of wigs or hair loss, the parentage of his three children (to whom the film is dedicated at the end) or the surgery-strength medication he relied on to rest.
"This Is It" opened at midnight and had a preview audience applauding as if at a live show. A planned concert tour may have been scrapped but the rehearsal footage was expertly and entertainingly cobbled together into this movie.
A couple of things are clear: Jackson's insomnia is not evident; his sold-out concerts would have been spectacular, based on the rehearsals, the filmed pieces in which Jackson was inserted alongside Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Edward G. Robinson, plus the energy and expertise of the dancers and musicians; MJ, as he was called here, knew what he wanted and how to express it, in a firm, knowledgeable but kind way, often closing suggestions with "God bless you."
This is Jackson as gentle soul and consummate entertainer. Edited from more than 100-plus rehearsal hours, it's not quite a concert movie but it's darn close. And the dancers who can barely contain themselves as they watch Jackson sing and dance to "Billie Jean" or "Beat It" substitute for what would have been the roar of the crowds.
"This Is It," directed by Kenny Ortega who also was directing the stage show, is scheduled to be in theaters for just two weeks (although Frank DiLeo, in a KDKA Radio interview today hinted there could be a third added but don't expect the DVD till late January). Some shows are sold out, so don't wait to buy tickets.
It's sad to hear Jackson mention that, at the end of a Jackson 5 segment of the show, he planned to recite the names of his brothers and thank his parents. And watching him perform "Man in the Mirror" may leave you with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes. It did me.
But "This Is It" will allow you to put the CDs back in the player ... and rejoice at Jackson's talent and life.
The movie, by the way, is rated PG for some suggestive choreography (that pesky crotch-grabbing) and scary image but there's nothing inappropriate for children. It does run 112 minutes, however.