Here I stand
I'm the light of the world,
I feel grand...
On March 5, 2009, music legend Michael Jackson, who had spent most of the past two decades being dogged by controversy and becoming an increasingly Reclusive Artist, organized a press conference at London's O2 Arena to announce This Is It, a 10 concert series (later increased to fifty due to public demand) that was to be held in the O2 from July 2009 to March 2010. Jackson described the series as his final curtain call, and his concert promoters AEG Live later confirmed that plans for an international tour were in the works.
Being Jackson's first significant concert event since the HIStory World Tour in 1997, it was touted as pop music's greatest comeback, and the biggest concert series ever held inside the O2, breaking the record set by his rival Prince's 21 Nights In London: The Earth Tour concerts. Overnight, sales of Jackson's discography skyrocketed, with sales of Thriller, Dangerous, Bad and other albums rising 100% or more, and millions of people around the world all tried to buy tickets for This Is It, selling out all 50 dates in less than 4 hours. In the months leading up to the first concert, Jackson and his troupe rehearsed nonstop at the Staples Center and The Forum in Los Angeles to prepare for This Is It.
Alas, it was not meant to be, as MJ died on June 25, 2009, less than a month before he was set to take the stage at London.
In the late summer of that same year, footage of Jackson performing "They Don't Care About Us" from the rehearsals leaked online, leading to many fans clamoring for more rehearsal footage of Jackson. So AEG Live and Columbia Pictures, with the approval of Jackson's estate, enlisted This Is It director and Jackson's personal friend Kenny Ortega to compile and condense over 100 hours worth of behind the scenes footage into a 150 minute movie.
The end result was Michael Jackson's This Is It, a documentary/concert movie that documents Michael Jackson's last rehearsals, showing him not only performing, but also going into the audition and creative process, and showing interviews with the musicians and dancers involved in the production. Initially given a limited released on October 28, 2009, the movie topped the box office in North America and in several countries around the world, quickly becoming the highest grossing concert film of all time. This prompted Columbia to extend the theater screenings to December. Critics, fans, and even some of Jackson's family members criticized Columbia and Jackson's estate for releasing the rehearsal footage to cash in on his death, but still gave the film largely positive reviews, praising Jackson's performance and portrayal, as well as giving a glimpse of What Could Have Been at London.
Accompanying the movie was a two-disc album featuring most of the songs performed in the movie, plus unreleased demos and a brand new song titled after the movie. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 on November 4, 2009, giving Jackson his first number-one album since 2001.
Songs that appeared in the movie:
- "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
- "Mind Is The Magic"*
- "They Don't Care About Us"
- "Human Nature"
- "Smooth Criminal"
- "The Way You Make Me Feel"
- "Jackson 5 Melody" (I Want You Back/The Love You Save/I'll Be There)
- "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)"
- "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
- "Who Is It"*
- "Beat It"
- "Black Or White"
- "Earth Song"
- "Billie Jean"
- "Man In The Mirror"
- "This Is It"*
- "Heal The World"
- "Human Nature" (Reprise)
asterisks indicate songs not performed live by Jackson.
This film provides examples of:
- Crossover: Thanks to the magic of modern video editing software, MJ's Moonwalker persona appears in classic films such as Gilda, The Big Sleep, and In a Lonely Place in the "Smooth Criminal" segment. He even interacts with Humphrey Bogart in a few scenes! Check out the vignette in full here.
- The Dead Can Dance: It wouldn't be "Thriller" without this trope.
- Faceless Mooks: His backup dancers in "They Don't Care About Us"
- Gem-Encrusted: He's not shown wearing them in the film, but the outfits he was gonna wear for the London concerts were blinged out to the absolute max.
- Giant Spider: The "Thriller" segment features a giant black widow spider. Not only is one on screen (this would have been in 3D, no less), but one scurries on stage that opens up to reveal Jackson.
- Grand Finale: Because Michael himself died before he could take the stage for This Is It, this movie is the closest thing fans are gonna get to a satisfying ending to his career.
- Green Aesop: "Earth Song", obviously. But made more poignant here by having backup singers dress in tattered clothing joining Jackson on stage, and a video featuring a menacing earth mover plowing through a forest and seemingly crush an innocent girl trying to protect its remains. Said mover would also join Jackson on stage, coming up behind him and stop as the finale of the piece.
- Moonwalk Dance: Surprisingly absent from the movie, even in the "Billie Jean" performance.
- Posthumous Collaboration: The title track to the movie, which was actually an old Thriller era demo known as "I Never Heard", co-written by Paul Anka, was fleshed out by Michael's brothers, and features them as backing vocalists. Anka, who didn't know about this until after the song's release, threatened legal action against against Jackson's estate if he wasn't given proper credit for the song. The estate immediately gave in, and gave Anka 50% publishing rights.
- Same Language Dub: Since he was "saving" his voice for London (see Willfully Weak below), some of Michael's lead vocals were lipsynched during rehearsals. The Other Wiki has specifics on what songs were lipsynched.
- Michael sings a snippet of "Speechless" during "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'".
- The dance sequence for "Jam" contains an instrumental excerpt of "Another Part of Me".
- "The Drill" / "They Don't Care About Us" contains references to "Bad", "Dangerous", "Mind is the Magic", "History", "She Drives Me Wild", and "Why You Wanna Trip On Me".
- The "Thriller" segment also features clips from "Ghosts" and "Threatened".
- Second Verse Curse: Invoked. Since This Is It was planned to have a much bigger set list than what was shown on the film, several songs had verses cut or truncated due to time constraints.
- The Stinger: Two of them. The first was a clip of Michael rehearsing "Human Nature" a couple of weeks before his death. The other was a video of the little girl who appeared in "Earth Song" holding the earth with the words "Heal The World" above her, followed by Michael's signature, and his final message to his fans: "I love you."
- Stock Footage: Clips from Moonwalker appear throughout the "Smooth Criminal" segment.
- What Could Have Been: The film was put together to show audiences what Michael had been planning for his intended swan song, with hints at his trademark showmanship on display. Had the concerts gone ahead as planned, the performance would have involved Michael reaching back into the Jackson 5 catalog and incorporating 3D horror effects for "Thriller".
- Willfully Weak: Non-combat example. Michael is shown deliberately not performing at full strength during rehearsals, trying to save his voice and stamina for the real thing.note The one time he's shown singing at full strength, during the "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" segment, he catches himself, and playfully chastises the crew and backup dancers (who were cheering him on) for making him sing at full strength.
- Writing Around Trademarks: During the brief snippet of "HIStory" that played during "They Don't Care About Us", a piece of music heavily resembling "Great Gate of Kiev" is played. In the original clip of the rehearsal that was leaked online, the original "Great Gate of Kiev" is played, but was replaced in the film due to sample clearance issues.