His music reached billions. His dreams inspired the world. But there was still one dream.
So opens the trailer to the upcoming, highly anticipated documentary concert film This Is It. That dream? For a 50-year-old man past his prime and without a radio hit in years, it was to hit the road and tour to show the world that he still had it. Sadly, after a long night of rehearsals, and weeks before his tour was to kick off, his life was cut short by an accidental overdose. And like Elvis Presley before him, a nation went berserk over the news. It was the first real news event carried live via Twitter, with news of his falling ill and death preceding even the official news reports. His death was the top story for days, and when he was finally buried, a city practically shut down, spending over $1.4 million, and the event was carried live on national television.
Such an incredible, bizarre ending to the troubled and celebrated life of Michael Jackson. Now, in true showbiz fashion, we’re getting a chance to say goodbye with the concert film Michael had no idea he was making. Culled from the footage of his final rehearsals over the course of three months, producers pared down over 100 hours of footage into this intimate behind-the-scenes look at Michael and his method. Here's how the film’s “director,” Kenny Ortega, put it: “This film is a gift to Michael's fans. As we began assembling the footage for the motion picture, we realized we captured something extraordinary, unique and very special. It's a very private, exclusive look into a creative genius's world. For the first time ever, fans will see Michael as they have never seen him before -- this great artist at work. It is raw, emotional, moving and powerful footage that captures his interactions with the THIS IS IT collaborators that he had personally assembled for this once-in-a-lifetime project. This film shows a consummate performer working with and guiding singers, dancers, band members, choreographers, special effects creators and countless other creative members of the team as we all assemble this historic concert. I can think of many words to describe Michael as he rehearses for and creates THIS IS IT -- inspirational, dynamic, generous, dedicated, loving and the guiding force -- you see him as the true architect and driving force of this project -- a true master of his craft, the Entertainer of Entertainers. I'm proud of the many years of friendship and creative association I shared with Michael and I'm happy that people will get a chance to see his spirit and drive in action. THIS IS IT may go down as the greatest concert that no one got a chance to see, but with this film, we get a rare portrait of Michael as he prepares for his final curtain call and what I believe was going to be his master work."
But will this be a hit for Sony? Can Michael pull out one last epic -- if you’ll pardon the pun -- performance for them?
There are a number of things stacked both in and against their favor. On the upside, the news coverage has been almost constant, with regular updates on the investigations and film sale -- not to mention the tabloid coverage, which has been ceaseless -- giving free promotion to the film. Being able to release it so close to his death is also working for them. Michael, for better or worse, has a lot of grieving fans out there who want their last chance to say goodbye; releasing this while the nation is still in something of a shock over his death is a solid way for people to come to grips with their feelings on the matter. And lastly, they are releasing this as a special engagement, with only a two-week window to see the film in a theater. Shot in HD, this will probably look gorgeous and sound incredible, so seeing this that way will entice a lot of fans to pack theaters at least once, if not multiple times, over the course of a very short period.
But is that the wisest option? After all, is it a good idea to limit your profit potential? Or if successful, can Sony simply hold over the film as was once the standard measuring bar for a success. Would it be so hard to say, “You demanded it! One more week of Michael! See the No. 1 concert movie in the country two weeks running before it is gone for good!”?
Or maybe it is a wise retreat. Working against the film are a number of factors that may or may not affect the overall gross. While Michael was one of the biggest stars in the world, he rarely performed in his home country and hadn’t gone on a tour in the States in decades. This was due in part to a lot of the negative press he received over allegations I don’t even need to address…because you already know them, fan or no. And sadly for Michael, time is not kind to fame. Once you’ve passed, rumor begins to become fact, no matter how well refuted they might be. Even on the day of his death, there were those who branded him a dead child molester, allegations never proven but oft-speculated about. And while the world will never know the truth about Michael’s life, that won’t stop those who make jokes or cause a fuss over the incidents in question, using that platform to attack or boycott the film.
Complicating matters a bit more is Latoya Jackson’s own admission that Michael wouldn’t have liked the film, primarily because it wasn’t him at his best but rather simply at rehearsals. She still claims to like the film and wants to support Michael, but a comment like that can’t help the film, even if it is free promotion.
But from a purely seasonal business standpoint, can a music documentary, no matter how timely, compete over Halloween weekend against the glut of horror films choking the cinemas this year -- in the form of the ghostly hit Paranormal Activity, the inevitable smash Saw VI and the surprisingly good, family friendly Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant? And if Michael doesn’t make tops at the box office on opening weekend, will that be considered a loss no matter what the returns?
We’ll find out soon enough. This Is It opens Oct. 28 and tickets are on sale now.