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Michael Jackson in IMAX: It's a thriller

November 1, 2009 |  4:50 pm

Michael Jackson This Is It

If the documentary “Michael Jackson's This Is It” is the closest audiences will come to seeing the content of what Jackson had in mind for his comeback concerts at London’s O2 Arena, then viewing the film in IMAX is the closest analogy to the way 90% of fans would have actually experienced it had they scored a ticket.

During the screening I caught over the weekend at the IMAX theater in Burbank, I quickly realized that this is how most people would have seen him: on a huge video screen, as opposed to being close enough to the stage to watch him in the flesh.

In addition, the 12,000-watt IMAX sound system helped considerably to replicate the visceral impact of the sound he and his band wanted to put across in concert. The sultry pulse of “The Way You Make Me Feel,” the explosive rock funk of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin' ” and the sonic crackle of “Thriller” are all the more impressive in IMAX.

Yet, for all the extra square screen footage and audio wattage, it was the movie’s small moments that had the most impact on me. The real appeal of this documentary is showing how Jackson approached his artistry, not just the bedazzling finished product, which of course now will never be seen.

The most revelatory scenes for my money were those in which he spent time with the multitude of musicians, dancers and crew members to communicate his vision of his music and live performance.

As the band was working up the elegantly fluid “The Way You Make Me Feel,” the King of Pop gently coached the keyboardist in how to find the elusive but more seductive groove that falls behind the beat, rather than the obvious one that sits squarely on it.

In another number, he explained — admonished is too strong a word for the gentle band leader — to a guitarist that the riff he was playing wasn’t aggressively funky enough and, therefore, Jackson wasn’t feeling the funk. It became tacitly clear that Jackson needed to feel it to his core, rather than simply move in time with the beat.

Surprisingly, even on the giant IMAX screen, scenes of Jackson’s dancing were often framed in a way that eliminated his feet: a faux pas akin to filming Segovia or Jimi Hendrix from the elbows up, or Madonna from the shoulders up.

The many scenes where his feet were visible offer a priceless reminder of what an endlessly inventive dancer Jackson was — a fact that stayed etched in my mind since seeing him in his prime in the 1980s. As others have noted in reviews of "This Is It," it's impressive to see Jackson, at 50, displaying a grace and ease of motion that even the corps of dancers working with him — most half his age — couldn't come close to equaling.

It’s a huge part of what always made him such a thriller in concert.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Michael Jackson during rehearsals for "This Is It" at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Credit: Kevin Mazur.