Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Michael Jackson – The Life of an Icon Blu-ray Review

See Michael Jackson, one of the most recognizable and popular entertainers of all time, like never before in the feature-length tribute Michael Jackson: The Life of an Icon. Known to millions of fans worldwide for his record-breaking albums, groundbreaking music videos, mesmerizing dance moves and humanitarian efforts, his true story has never really been told…until now. This unprecedented look into the King of Pop’s fascinating life includes all-new interviews with his mother Katherine Jackson as well as siblings Tito and Rebbie Jackson, family, friends and music legends such as Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick and many more.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

There have been a lot of specials and documentaries about Michael Jackson since his untimely death but this one has input from his mother Katherine and his brother Tito and his sister Rebbie.  I’m not sure why some of his family is on this one while the other half of the family appeared on another documentary, but I suspect that this is the more effective one.  The Life of an Icon covers Michael’s entire life starting with his death two years ago and the 9-1-1 call that was made in an attempt to save his life.
From there we journey back to Michael’s youth before his brothers and him became The Jackson 5.  Katherine talks about how even when he was two years old, she noticed that Michael would bounce along with the sound of the dryer in perfect rhythm.  Even at a young age, Michael showed an advanced aptitude for dancing and singing but he wasn’t added to his brothers’ band until they heard him sing at a talent show and noticed that the crowd loved the young boy.
It really should have surprised anyone that his musical talent came so naturally to him since his entire family was musically inclined.  His father Joe was in a band, his mother Katherine frequently sang along with the children, and his brothers had a band, while his sisters also sang on occasion.  The fact that the entire family later had such success as both a band and later breakout solo careers for Michael and his sister Janet, seems almost inevitable.  Of course their rise to stardom didn’t always seem like a sure thing to them since they worked really hard to make it happen.
This look at Michael Jackson’s life covers his time with the Jackson 5 and his subsequent blockbuster solo career that was highlighted by the release of “Thriller” which is still the biggest album ever sold.  Since his family is heavily involved in this, I thought it would skip the unsavory aspects of his life but I was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. All of the controversies that swirled around Jackson are here: the accusations of child molestation, of him being suspected of homosexuality, the Pepsi commercial accident, his changing skin color and plastic surgeries, and his dependence on an ever increasing serious pharmaceutical methods to get some sleep which ended up killing him thanks to an incompetent doctor.  Gest and the Jackson family tackle each of these charges head on and for the most part are pretty convincing.
The Life of an Icon does what it’s meant to do very well by giving viewers a better understanding of Michael Jackson the man and the performer and what he meant to his family.  Jackson was undeniably talented and one of the best (if not the best) entertainers the world has ever seen, but because of his upbringing and some questionable choices of his own, he seemed to struggle to be happy and was often his own worst enemy.  No matter what your personal opinion of Michael Jackson may be, it’s still sad any way you look at it to see and hear how many people took advantage of him and used him.
While I would have liked to have some footage of Jackson in concert or even some music videos, this documentary steers clear of them and focuses on family stories and recollections.  It was interesting to hear from the stars of Michael’s childhood like Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, and more talk about what he was like as a child.  I have mixed feelings about each of them getting a snippet of their own music played during their comments, which part of me liked, but at the same time struck me as shameless self-promotion.  This is a nice tribute to Michael and his fans are sure to enjoy it.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks pretty good and offers a sharp detailed picture.  Colors are reproduced well and black levels are dark and solid.  The archival footage from Michael Jackson’s Jackson 5 days is grainy and lacks detail, but that’s to be expected.  The flesh tones look natural and consistent throughout the documentary.  Just wait until you see David Gest showing off his wannabe gangsta style in high definition!  His appearance made me laugh every time he came on screen (which was a lot).

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Michael Jackson – The Life of an Icon’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also perfectly acceptable but nothing mind-blowing.  This is a documentary after all with very little of Michael Jackson’s music unfortunately.  Dialogue is clear and understandable and produced by the front channels.  The snippets of music that accompany Michael’s Motown colleagues sounds decent but somewhat muted.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

For those that would like to hear more thoughts about Michael from his family and friends, these extras which generally run about 30 minutes each, will give you that opportunity.  There’s some good moments here, especially with Katherine, but since the main feature lasts about two and half hours, some cuts needed to be made.
  • Katherine Jackson Additional Interview Footage
  • Tito Jackson Additional Interview Footage
  • Rebbie Jackson Additional Interview Footage
  • Additional Contributors Interview Footage

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this since some of it was well done while at other times it seemed like self-promotion from Gest and the rest with the exception of Katherine.  I don’t know how you make a documentary about Michael Jackson and you don’t include clips of his music videos or concert footage unless it was a rights issue with Sony.  The bulk of this feature is focused on his younger years while his career post “Off the Wall” is given hardly any mention.  What’s even crazier is that “Thriller” doesn’t get much attention either other than to say that it’s still the best selling album ever.  While much of this doc feels like a fairly effective rebuttal to Jackson’s critics, it still feels like it’s missing the showmanship that Jackson was able to muster effortlessly.  Fans of the singer will no doubt enjoy this but I wish it offered less Gest and Rebbie and more Michael Jackson.
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