With this months release of the new album Invincible, and Tuesdays concert event "Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special," the world is once again poised to either open their arms to the King of Pop or shake their heads in weary dismay.
The success of this "comeback" (he staged similar media blitzkriegs upon the releases of 1987s Bad, 1991s Dangerous, and 1994s HIStory) will likely influence how long Jackson remains in the public spotlight before disappearing into Neverland again.
If Invincible is a success, perhaps Jackson will finally follow through on a life-long threat: to return to the silver screen. Jackson has made only two feature film appearances: as the Scarecrow in 1978s dismal, joyless The Wiz, and as the star of a weird, experimental vehicle called Moonwalker (1988).
Since then, hes repeatedly popped up in industry gossip. In the 80s, it was said he was going to be Peter Pan for Steven Spielberg (a role that eventually went to Robin Williams). Then, he was going to star in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera. Antonio Banderas name soon replaced Jacksons, then the project disappeared totally. Last year, an even more bizarre buzz: Jacko would be appearing as Edgar Allen Poe in a biopic about Poes last daysno matter the uncomfortable fact that Poe was white.
Then, last month, Jackson told TV Guide he was teaming up with Liza Minnelli to star in a film about "Two struggling entertainers trying to make it. They get turned away everywhere they gowith some of the best dancing ever." And finally, this week the Toronto Sun quoted director Bryan Michael as reporting that he and Jackson were teaming up to co-direct "Home of the Angels," described as Stand By Me meets "Oliver."
There is a good chance that all this ado stems directly from the still-smoking rubble that was "Moonwalker." Intended as some sort of freewheeling, anything-goes answer to the Beatles "Yellow Submarine," it is one of the most gut-wrenching pieces of "art" ever created by an egomaniac, ever. Dont believe me? Then buckle on your thinking caps and figure THIS one out, buster.
Moonwalker begins with a concert performance, where Michael sings "Man in the Mirror." Young women are screaming and passing out at an alarming rate. Then photos of famous social figures begin to intercut with the performance. It goes something like this: Martin Luther King, Jr./girl passes out/JFK/girl screams; passes out/Ethiopian children/girl screams; is carried away by security; passes out.
Then theres a montage of Jackson Five stuff (featuring Mike repeatedly dressed as some sort of pint-sized pimp), which smoothly segues into the video for "Bad," except instead of a bunch of young hoodlums dancing through the subway tunnels, its a bunch of REALLY young hoodlums dancing through the subway tunnelsthe entire video is recreated with a bunch of 8 year-olds. Its not a parody, mind you, but a straight re-creation. It goes without saying that this is really, really, really awesome. Or cryptic. One or the other.
Now "Moonwalker" begins to rival "2001" in baffling symbolism: Child-Mike leaves the set of "Bad," walks through a magical mist, and transforms to Man-Mike. When a bunch of Claymation paparazzi spot him, they chase Man-Mike through the movie studio. To escape them, Man-Mike transforms to Bunny-Mike, a 7-foot Claymation rabbit.
Bunny-Mike rides off on a bike, which morphs into a motorcycle. While singing everyones favorite MJ tune "Speed Demon," Bunny-Mike hilariously causes the violent freeway deaths of dozens of paparazzi. Bunny-Mike then stops the bike, turns into Man-Mike and dances alongside Bunny-Mike. Bunny-Mike then disappears, but re-emerges out of the side of a mountain as something I guess I should call Rock-Bunny-Mike. Rock-Bunny-Mike winks at Man-Mike as if this is all well and good.
Unfazed, there is a brief pause for the "Leave Me Alone" video, then we launch into a long, Spielberg-esque story about three street kids (to add confusion, Child-Mike is one of them) who idolize Man-Mike, who is on the run from Mr. Big (Joe Pesci), who is trying to get all the worlds kids addicted to crack. Nice, huh?
After running down dimly lit streets for a numbing ten minutes and being cornered by Mr. Big, Man-Mike logically morphs into Car-Mike (yes, Car-Mike) and flies away (yes, flies). Car-Mike turns back to Man-Mike, who goes into a bar and sings "Smooth Criminal." This scene is almost the same as the MTV video, except in this version Man-Mike shoots some dude point-blank in the chest, which is decidedly unfriendly.
Anyway, its been about five minutes since Man-Mike has done anything really bizarre, so he changes into Metal-Mike, a huge robot who fires missiles at all the bad guys. To kill Mr. Big though, Metal-Mike has to turn into Spaceship-Mike and shoot lasers at him.
The big ending has Man-Mike reuniting with Child-Mike and taking all three kids onstage for a rendition of the Beatles "Come Together." This is kind of weird, because there have been two previous John Lennon references in "Moonwalker": his image popped up alongside Ghandi and Mother Theresa during the "Man in the Mirror" montage, and one of the three children in "Moonwalker" is played by Sean Lennon, Johns son. Based on the rest of the film, though, this probably means nothing except that Mike thinks the Beatles are really neat.
When the credits roll on "Moonwalker," the feeling you are left with is best described as "irritable mystification." Not because you have just pissed away 90 minutes of your life, but that somebody let Jackson make this atrocity without telling him it was the worst idea of all time. As Jackson already proved in "The Wiz" and his countless videos, he is an able actor. He just has no sense of montagetypically, Image One + Image Two = Complete Confusion. He uses items that mean something to him (whether it be Jimmy Carter or Rock-Bunny-Mike) and puts them together without giving thought to the thematic or narrative consequences.
As a singer and dancer, Jackson is indeed invincible, and Tuesdays concert proved that, as artists such as Whitney Houston, Usher, Liza Minnelli, and Marc Anthony tried futilely to cover his songs. His future as an actor, however, rests upon a future filmmaker with the ability to reign in Jacksons "good intentions" and naïve storytelling inclinations. Michael Jackson is an artist with almost limitless potential. If only he would stop trying so hard.