Undoubtedly – and unashamedly, perhaps – the film is cash-in propaganda of Riefenstahlian proportions... but to be honest, it’s all the more riveting and emotionally rewarding for it. Here we have a no-frills eulogy for Jackson the performer and artist - with all the reams of dodgy courtroom footage, the ruinous tabloid splashes and any enquiry into his dubious private life kept at arm’s length, perhaps being saved for a different, more damning portrait of one of the world's most enigmatic celebrities.
Indeed, it’s a film that’s been methodically purged of any ill feeling and negativity: the fact that he died isn’t even mentioned, which gives you some idea of just how desperate the makers of the film are to transport you to Jackson’s gooey-eyed Neverland where nothing bad ever happens. Yet, they do somehow succeed, and that helps the audience maintain its focus on the rousing and pleasingly stripped-back renditions of tracks plucked from Jackson’s venerable back catalogue.
All the classics are here, and not only are we able to see intimate footage of Jackson rehearsing but we also get a preview of the bespoke films and stunts that were set to accompany each song. ‘Thriller’ is backed by a 3D graveyard scene with various heavily made-up ghouls dancing from their tombs. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ opens on a huge backdrop of workers descending from a scaffold at daybreak and is accompanied by a languid, Gershwin-esque prelude with which Jackson tries to emulate ‘the sound of getting out of bed’. He’s even spliced into a bullet-time-enhanced Humphrey Bogart movie for the introduction to ‘Smooth Criminal’.
Beyond the music, though, there is interest to be had from the between-song footage of Jackson conversing with his many adoring collaborators. When complaining that his earpiece is too loud, he descends into a kind of infantile gibberish where he dances around the issue with bizarre abstracts (‘I’m being punched in the ear!’) and the crew all duly respond to his mithering in the sickeningly fawning tone that might be offered to a puppy with a thorn in its paw. It’s patently obvious that Jackson had surrounded himself with a cadre of slathering yes-men, which helps you understand why he might have been trapped (perhaps willingly?) in a state of arrested development.
But this is a concert film, and, as such, it’s utterly engaging from beginning to end. Of course, there are those who believe that this 50-date concert engagement was one big insurance scam, and that Jackson faked his own death so he could sup mai tais on a private beach in the Cayman Islands while counting the money as it rolled in like the waves. The unquestionable amount of love and craftsmanship that went into this performance puts that theory into heavy disrepute. For sheer what-could-have-been tragedy, this is one to file next to the Elvis’s ‘’68 Comeback Special’.