TV Review - Michael Jackson: Bad 25

A lot of people were watching football on Thanksgiving, so the ratings for Spike Lee's documentary Michael Jackson: Bad 25 were pretty low, but the edited version is available on Hulu to watch. The documentary originally premiered at the 69th Venice International Film Festival in August 2012 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson's seventh studio album as a solo artist.

The Bad album had 11 songs on it. Spike Lee goes through each song chronologically as it appears on the album and shows us archive footage along with Lee's own interviews of the singers, dancers, musicians, producers, directors and engineers who remember what went into the process of making each song. The only exception is "Man in the Mirror," which is the seventh song on the album. It's instead saved as the last song that is analyzed and heard in this movie.

When it played at Venice, the documentary was a little over two hours in length. The documentary that aired on ABC television on Thanksgiving and that is now available online is half that length. It was supremely edited down. Noticeably, two songs on the album aren't featured on the edited movie. The third song "Speed Demon," which was used as a promotional song for Jackson's 1988 film Moonwalker, was not in the edited movie. Neither was the fifth song "Just Good Friends," the track that Jackson did with Stevie Wonder.

Nevertheless, this brief, TV version gives fans of Jackson a lot more than the 2009 documentary This Is It. There's concert footage, which shows Jackson performing powerfully. There's video clips of Jackson's short films, reminding us of his cinematic influences and there's remarkable behind-the-scenes insight here. Not all secrets are revealed, but a lot of dots are connected and we get more of an idea of where things came and who Jackson was in relation to it all.

For film lovers like me, it's a special treat to see Martin Scorsese talking about his experience and observations about directing the short film for the album's titular track. It's great to see how his Taxi Driver and Raging Bull aesthetic was married to the James Brown and West Side Story inspirations that Jackson was bringing to the table. It's also fascinating to see how it all reflected and affected black culture at the time and various African-American artists.

Also, as a film lover, it was amazing to see Jackson's actual, hand-written notes on the making of the short film "Smooth Criminal." We learn that Jackson not only designed his own costume but he knew and referenced films like The Band Wagon (1953) and The Third Man (1949) along side these very futuristic aspects, as well as random things like Bugs Bunny cartoons, but yet made it all work.

Lee also manages to capture some funny stories and moments about the late pop star that will stick with fans. Whether or not Jackson was too shy to kiss a girl on set or stage is one example. Another is the origin of the line in "Smooth Criminal" regarding Annie. Jackson liked to pull pranks, even in studio, but there's also some poignant moments. All of the interviews' reaction to Jackson's death made me tear up a little bit. Yet, what you walk away with is how much of a genius and talent Michael Jackson was. If nothing else, you get what a great work ethic, sense of creativity and dedication he had.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins. (with commercials)
Available on Hulu and on DVD in February 2013.


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