Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Odd enough at the time of its release, Michael Jackson's spectacular film montage is all the stranger to watch now, in view of everything that has happened since. But to appreciate what it was trying to achieve, it's important to remember just how much excitement it created at the time of its release.

Back then, Jackson was without doubt the biggest star in the world, his album Bad at the top of the charts, and he was on a world tour which saw him at his very best as both a singer and a dancer. Moonwalker was a consolation prize for those who couldn't attend the concerts, a means of getting close to some of that excitement. It appealed not only to fans but also to many casual viewers. After all, it was only five years since his video for Thriller had created a sensation, turning the music video into a legitimate place for short film and, in the UK, adding to the existing moral debate over horror movies. Audiences going to see Moonwalker were hoping for more of the same.

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To an extent, they got it. Some of Jackson's strongest songs are featured here, one of them (Smooth Criminal) in a much extended version, and there are some terrific dance performances both from the star and from his entourage. The early part of the film has lots of energy and is very engaging, with striking use of bright colours. There's some spectacular set design and very trippy animation, and you can spot several other celebrities in cameo roles, an illustration of Jackson's influence at the time. There are only a couple of awkward sequences; Jackson's flirting with a young woman jars with his otherwise child-like character, and there's a whining aspect to his performance in Leave Me Alone. It's not that famous people have no right to privacy (of course they do), but complaining about the papparazzi sits uneasily alongside such an egotistical endeavour.

If ego is a minor problem in the first half of this film, it's a major problem in the second half, which Jackson wrote apparently without benefit of an editor (many lines seem to have been culled directly from Saturday morning kids' TV). Here he stars as a good-guy gangster who has magical powers drawn from shooting stars and can transform into a car and a robot and save the entire world before breakfast.

It's like something somebody would fantasise about when they were six, or one of Gordon Brown's more exotic delusions, and watching it in a cinema just makes one feel embarrassed for him. Many viewers will also find it uncomfortable to watch Jackson presenting himself as a hero to children, who continually express their adoration for him, especially when Joe Pesci (at a low point in his career) is riding around on a giant phallic syringe-cannon. He's the bad guy, you see, who wants to addict the whole world to (unspecified) drugs because, well, because he thinks it would be a good idea (i.e. Jackson couldn't think of a reason).

This mixture of fantastic stage presence and desperately awkward social interaction pretty much sums up Jackson's career. As such, Moonwalker offers more insight into him as a man than he probably intended, since it clearly aimed at making him seem perfect. It's designed to be fun, and in places it's very entertaining, yet one can't help but come away from it feeling rather sad.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2009
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A series of musical performances by Michael Jackson intercut with a story about a drug dealer.
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Director: Jerry Kramer, Jim Blashfield

Writer: Michael Jackson, David Newman

Starring: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Mick Jagger

Year: 1988

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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