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Michael Jackson's This Is It

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

It's best to approach the posthumous documentary "Michael Jackson's This Is It" (Columbia) with limited expectations.

Director Kenny Ortega's energetic, largely unobjectionable tribute to the controversial "king of pop" is narrowly focused and entirely worshipful, casting little light on the eccentric, if not inscrutable, personality of one of the late 20th century's most iconic entertainers. But the filmmaker does succeed in providing insight into the talent, vision and discipline that lay behind Jackson's global—and long-lasting—professional success.

Using footage originally intended for other purposes, Ortega captures the planning and rehearsals for the titular series of comeback concerts, scheduled to begin in London in July, but forestalled by Jackson's untimely death at age 50 the previous month.

Jackson is explicit about holding back on both his singing and dancing, saving his energy for the audiences who—as it turned out—were never to see him perform. Yet the appeal of his wide-ranging material, which easily embraced rhythm and blues, rock, disco and even the occasional heavy-metal guitar riff, remains unmistakable.

Fragments of a video cleverly incorporating Jackson into a series of scenes from old movies is particularly entertaining, while a montage of his career played out as he sings one of his childhood hits, "I'll Be There"—first recorded in his Motown days as the diminutive frontman for the Jackson 5—proves poignant. And it's intriguing to witness both Jackson's intuitive skill in guiding his backup musicians and the understated, quirky wit he sometimes reveals.

With his breathless voice and shy manner, Jackson displays an apparently sincere, though nonspecific, faith as he frequently invokes God's blessing on his collaborators and on the work he shares with them. He also seems somewhat taken aback when—in the closest anyone on-screen comes to verbal vulgarity—one of his fellow performers uses the term "booty" in a way that doesn't refer to footwear.

The only other factor likely to be of concern to parents of young fans is the mildly risque nature of some of the dancing, especially a characteristic move that mimics the self-adjustment sometimes indulged in by baseball players.

The film contains some skimpy costuming and suggestive dancing and at least one vaguely crass term. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II— adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG— parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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