Peppered with vox pops from dancers and musicians, the film takes us through the show from Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' to Man in the Mirror. For most of the numbers, Ortega splices together practice performances from multiple rehearsals, which means that sometimes the sound doesn't match the visuals (although it all seems to be recorded live). And what we see is an astoundingly gifted musician who's perhaps not as robust as he used to be, but still has an extraordinary ease with his voice and body.
The doc's straightforward style covers up some of its careful construction.
Despite the fact that there are supposedly 100 hours of rehearsal footage (recorded for Jackson's private archive), a lot of the screen time is given to the effects work, including the large-scale short films that accompany the big set pieces. Some of these are extremely impressive, such as the way they multiply 11 dancers into a massive gyrating army, a 1940s mash-up placing Jackson into a mob movie with Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, or when the stage is transformed into a 1960s set for a Jackson 5 medly.
Through all of this we see Jackson working with the dancers, musicians and filmmakers, taking an extremely hands-on approach to the concert and effortlessly demonstrating his physical and vocal fitness. He clearly knows how he wants the music to sound ("You've got to let it simmer, just bathe in the moonlight"). Through all of this he comes across as relatively down-to-earth, fiendishly talented and passionate about his work.
He's also zealous about saving the planet, as seen in the Earth Song film, which sees lush nature turned into an apocalyptic vision of hell and redefines the concert's title. Ortega stresses this heavily, including in one of the post-credit clips, and also indulges in a bit of eulogising the dancers practically worship Jackson as he performs Billy Jean alone on stage. Although, frankly, anyone would cheer while watching that.
In Theaters: Saturday 23rd January 2010
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Kenny Ortega
Producer: Paul Gongaware, Randy Phillips