DVD Review: This Is It

When Michael Jackson’s This Is It arrived in theaters last fall for a limited-run release, its presentation of the late pop star was an exercise in duality. The film undeniably reaffirmed Jackson’s unparalleled talent and reinforced his seat atop the global pantheon of performers. But it also offered a glimpse of a seemingly frail man who was not only aesthetically disfigured, but whose fame had so totally eclipsed — or perhaps defined — his identity that it was tough to find the person within.

The DVD edition of the film, which hit streets today, again underscores Jackson’s stunning gifts as an entertainer, and particularly his relentless perfectionism. The original film is woven together from behind-the-scenes footage shot throughout the build-up to what would have been Jackson’s multi-week performances at London’s 02 arena. The DVD’s extra segments, in contrast, are comprised of documentary-style interviews with some of the people who worked closely with Jackson to develop the show. Through the handful of in-depth featurettes, the new release offers a more mediated presentation of Jackson than the movie itself, but doesn’t shed much new light on its subject.

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Watched as a series, the new segments offer an additional hour and a half-plus of previously unreleased footage. They’re organized thematically, with titles like “Staging the Return,” “The Gloved One,” and “Memories of Michael,” all of which add up to a touchy-feely pastiche of perspectives on and anecdotes about both Jackson and the concerts-to-be. Some of the more prominent figures are there — such as director Kenny Ortega and choreographer Travis Payne — but so are some of the other people who were heavily involved in the 02 show prep, but would otherwise have stayed behind the scenes. Among them are John Meglen and Paul Gongaware, two of the producers from AEG, the concert promotion company that facilitated the “This Is It” concert series, as well as Orianthi Panagaris, the gorgeous female guitar player who appears playing solos in This Is It.

As this multifaceted parade of creatives and business folks open up for the camera, their reverence for Jackson is an articulation of what the standalone film already communicated about him. Much like the movie itself, This Is It’s extras serve largely as a glossy ode to the star, overflowing with warmth, adulation and genuine respect for him as a genius. The gloss, however, loses some of that veneer when it’s manufactured by highly circumscribed interviews. Where the movie’s slick editing and non-stop praise-fest could be largely overlooked in the name of fun, the neatly packaged extras start to feel more like propaganda than a fresh glimpse at the man behind the fame.

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Not that there aren’t fun tidbits to enjoy. In “The Gloved One,” costume designer Zaldy appears in a shiny shirt with a plunging neckline to dish the details on what he created for Jackson to wear for each of his big songs. The garments are largely Swarovski crystal-studded affairs, loaded for bare with layer upon layer of detail. One suit, Zaldy explains, would have featured a remote-control trails of rainbow lights up and down Jackson’s limbs, while another weighed ten pounds, thanks to the designer’s apparent vision of Crystals Gone Wild. The absence of Jackson is more obvious here, but Zaldy’s over-the-top art pieces allow for a little levity.

Just as Jackson’s minions profess (again… and again) about the star himself, This Is It’s DVD has real heart under all the hype. After multiple sound bytes, we get it: Jackson was giving. He loved children (but not in a creepy way). He set the bar high, and wanted to inspire his fans. But — as was also true for Jackson — This Is It would be better served by including a little respite from the reverence, so that its portrait might have a shot of at least approximating humanity.

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