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November 8, 2009

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Jackson tribute accents talent

WATCHING "Michael Jackson's This Is It" will have fans grieving once again, but this time, it won't only be for the fallen King of Pop, but for what we lost - a brilliant entertainer who gave every inch of his body and soul for what might have been one of the most spectacular comebacks of all time.

Jackson never got to complete that comeback, dying days before his London concerts were to begin in July, but "This Is It," culled from hundreds of hours of rehearsal footage for those shows, does it for him.

Even though it's been well edited, the amazing performances Jackson delivers in this film are not a result of camera magic, but Jackson's own.

When Jackson announced his "This Is It" concerts earlier this year, many wondered whether he had any magic left at all. Besides his tattered reputation, he was rumored to be in frail health and hadn't performed a major concert in almost a decade.

There was well-deserved skepticism about whether Jackson had the vocal and physical agility to stage the kind of concerts that wowed fans in his prime two decades earlier.

"This Is It" gives both answers an emphatic yes. Even though Jackson's looks - with his weirdly delicate face and his chopstick-thin frame - still makes one squirm with discomfort, once he starts to perform, that discomfort gives way to amazement.

At 50, Jackson was still an amazingly gifted dancer with moves that leave your mouth agape. Though we only see him do the moonwalk once, and just fleetingly, his stop-on-a-dime spins, deft footwork and body jerks recall the Jackson the world fell in love with 25 years earlier with "Thriller." And Jackson's voice still dazzles - even when he's trying to play it down.

Spine-tingling vocal

"I'm trying to conserve my voice," Jackson says at one point - then delivers a vocal that is spine-tingling - and these are just run-throughs, not the actual show.

Fans never get to see what would have been the "This Is It" concert - full dress rehearsals weren't due to happen until the show went overseas for final rehearsals.

Instead, the movie takes from segments of taped rehearsals, and also weaves in film segments Jackson planned for the concert to give at the very least an idea of how the concert might have looked.

A graveyard scene meant to be in 3D was planned for Jackson's performance of "Thriller," and a computer-animated dancing army would have accompanied Jackson on screen for a militaristic version of "They Don't Care About Us."

But whether it was through new visuals and different musical arrangements, he appeared to be breathing new life into his well-worn catalog, promising fans a show that would have taken Jackson and his fans to new heights.

The film doesn't give viewers much insight into Jackson outside of performance mode - we only see him rehearsing or hear him talking about music, or the meaning of his songs. Yet the film does give glimpses into Jackson's personality - alternatively playful and shy, firm yet understanding.

There were critics of "This Is It" - those who wondered whether it would be an attempt to cash in on his newfound popularity, and those who felt the work for the concerts contributed to his death.

But "This Is It" is a beautifully made, loving tribute that gives Michael Jackson what he so desperately wanted - affirmation that he indeed was the greatest entertainer of our time.


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