Los Angeles: Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” premiered to a star-filled crowd including Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and four of the singer’s brothers on Tuesday, winning early praise from critics and showing fans that the King of Pop could still entertain.
Culled from 80 hours of videotape taken of Jackson’s final days of rehearsals for a series of London concerts planned for July, the film has been called “a story of a master of his craft” by director Kenny Ortega.
Several hundred fans, many of them wearing a single sequined glove like the one the pop star donned in the 1980s, gathered for the Los Angeles premiere and a simultaneous opening in London. Some 150,000, including fans from Brazil and Australia, watched the Los Angeles event live on the Internet.
Premieres were also held in 15 other cities including Seoul, Johannesburg, Rio De Janeiro, and Berlin.
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and Jackson’s brothers Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Marlon were among those who paid tribute to Jackson, who died suddenly in June.
Ortega opened the Los Angeles premiere by describing Jackson as “a man who’s heart pumped to make this world a better place. Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It´ is and always has been for the fans.”
The movie opens with the singers and dancers Jackson had chosen to be part of the show giving testimonials on how they felt to be working with the superstar, then dives directly into his hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.”
What follows is nearly two hours of Jackson rehearsing to perform some of his biggest hits for the “This Is It” show. It would have been filled with dances for songs like “Beat It,” a new film version of the ghostly “Thriller,” rocking tunes like “Black or White” and the moving “Man in the Mirror.”
Throughout the film, audiences see Jackson working with his singers and dancers to create a show that would wow his fans, and the premiere audience seemed impressed, cheering at least seven times through the show.
Claudia Puig, movie critic for USA Today, told Reuters after the film that it “gives you a sense of the show” and is “a window into his still powerful ability to entertain.”
The Hollywood Reporter critic Kirk Honeycutt wrote that “with quiet confidence, he clearly was putting together a spectacular concert for the London stage.”
Audience member Beau Franklin of Los Angeles said the film was “very moving.”
“You get the feeling it isn’t over, that there will be more with remixes of his songs and so on,” she said.
While Jackson looks skinny, audience members said they saw little about his demeanor or work onstage that would lead them to think he was in ill health during the rehearsals.
Jackson, who grew up as one of Motown legends The Jackson 5 and still has the best-selling album of all-time with 1982’s solo effort “Thriller,” died suddenly on June 25 in Los Angeles after suffering cardiac arrest at age 50.
Officials have since ruled that his heart stopped due to an overdose of sedatives and the powerful anesthetic propofol, which is used in surgery. The film does not go into his death, which could result in criminal charges against his doctors.
“It’s a privileged path to observe Michael as the creative architect and mastermind behind his work,” Ortega told Reuters.
The media had dubbed the shows, 50 of them planned for London’s 02 arena, as a “comeback tour” for Jackson, who left the stage in the 2000s after charges of child molestation. In a 2005 trial, he was acquitted of all charges but the negative publicity took him out of the spotlight.
Jackson was said to be as much as $400 million to $500 million in debt when he died, but the value of his assets - principally his music and his ownership of a song catalog that held rights to old Beatles tunes - outweighed his debts.
After his death, concert promoter AEG Live, which bankrolled the London concerts, struck a $60 million deal with Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures movie studio to use the videos and make the film.