Will 'This Is It' rehab Michael Jackson's image?

The film 'This Is It' could help remind viewers of the Michael Jackson of the 1980s – instead of the troubled artist who was beset by scandal in recent years.

Joel Ryan/AP
A general view of a large billboard on display in London's Leicester Square at the UK Premiere of Michael Jackson's 'This Is It', Tuesday.

Besides being a potential box-office hit, Michael Jackson's concert film "This Is It" could help rehabilitate the pop star's image, which was tarnished in his final years, say music industry analysts and other experts.

Like Elvis Presley, who had gained weight in his final years, Mr. Jackson may be well on his way to being remembered as an icon of artistic greatness, the performer he was in the 1980s and '90s rather than the controversy-plagued figure he became later.

Compiled from hundreds of hours of rehearsal footage, "This Is It" documents the final weeks of Jackson's life, as he prepared to put on the biggest shows of his life at London's O2 Arena. It has received mostly glowing reviews from fans.

"This film may quiet many of the voices that wish to portray Jackson as 'weird' or even 'depraved,' and echo all of the definitions of him as the ultimate artist and technical perfectionist," says John O'Leary, assistant professor of communication at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "The film is saying that the work should define the man. Chaplin's films were given new life in the 1960s and 1970s. I think this film will go a long way to do the same for Michael Jackson."

Although tickets have been sold out at many venues for the limited two-week showing of the movie – and Sony claims it has more than recovered its $60 million investment in the film – not all reviewers have been kind to the film.

" 'This Is It' never quite manages to be as compelling as many fans will want," said the BBC's Lizo Mzimba. "It only occasionally makes you forget you're watching a rehearsal. The fault doesn't lie with the filmmakers. This was a work in progress."

But Jackson's actual performance had he lived may not have had as powerful an impact as this movie, say some observers.

"There is a certain poignancy and greatness that the movie takes on because of the entertainer's death," says Gene Grabowski, senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications. He points to musicians such as Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and Jim Croce, all of whom were already legends when they died but whose legacy was magnified posthumously in part because of their untimely deaths.

"In fact, the estates of all those individuals continue to earn substantial sums of money annually based on the performers' images and recorded performances," says Mr. Grabowski.

Some suggest that the upcoming trial of Jackson's doctor for his alleged role in the star's death could bring out more allegations about Jackson's drug abuse or other behavior.

The upcoming trial could be a problem, admits Michael Sands, a Hollywood-based image consultant who has worked with many celebrities. But, he adds, "my crystal ball says Michael will survive all of the negativity that will come out [and] will be defined as a charitable, thoughtful, good father and as one of the all time great entertainers, whose drug addiction evoked behavior that got him into trouble with the law and ultimately killed him."

" 'This Is It' is poised to do a few important things: bring some closure to a spectacular musical career after Jackson's all-too-sudden death and expose a whole new generation of potential fans to his legacy," says Don Tanner of Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications. "While [the film] will not necessarily be the 'end all, be all' of how Jackson will be ultimately remembered, it will serve as a powerful, vivid reminder of his talent."

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