Warner Bros Pictures
While the world comes to terms with the passing of Michael Jackson, record labels are finding him as profitable in death as he had been in life. In the past months, all sorts of obscure memorabilia, from bootleg tapes to never-seen-before footage, has found its way into stores and people’s homes. Moonwalker, while not nearly as obscure, is one of the lesser quoted Michael Jackson films which released in 1988 and briefly spawned a videogame franchise (Sega Genesis) before slipping back into oblivion.
The film, directed by Jerry Kramer who also produced and co-directed Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, is a series of short segments that segue into each other which makes for a rather interesting experience as the pieces vary from the biographical to the fantastical. The film opens on a rather solemn note, with the video to ”˜Man in the Mirror’ as he makes a plea for world peace, set to the montages of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and others before moving into a high-speed kitschy retrospective of Jackson’s already prolific career. Perhaps the best part of the film, you’re treated to about ten seconds of all the Jackson 5’s biggest hits, moving on to Jackson’s hits right up to bad, unwittingly also chronicling the stages of his changing appearance. A short parody of the ”˜Bad’ video (called ”˜Badder’) follows, with precocious child actors filling in for the people in the real video. But the most bizarre and, in retrospect, poignant segment of the movie, is one called ”˜Speed Demon’ that has a claymation Jackson trying to escape hordes of hysterical fans and opportunistic journalists by morphing into a bunny, Sylvestor Stallone, Tina Turner and Pee Wee Herman. When he finally loses the fans and takes off the bunny costume, it comes to life becoming his alter ego, mocking and challenging him in turns. That impression of not being comfortable in his own skin is compounded by the seamless transition into the video for ”˜Leave Me Alone’ where Jackson flees from myriad demons in a dreamscape while newspapers float around him carrying the headlines from all the outrageous stories told about him.
The last segment of the movie is a short film written by Jackson himself where he plays a gangster with a heart of gold trying to save a bunch of children from a drug-dealing Joe Pesci who wants to take over the world by getting kids addicted to drugs. Oh, and Jackson is not just any criminal, he’s a magical mobster who derives his power from shooting stars. The video for ”˜Smooth Criminal’ is woven into the story, which needless to say ends happily with the kids saved by Jackson who morphs into a truly terrifying giant robot to finish of Pesci and associates. It’s a simplistic world view, the kind of fantasy dreamed up by a five-year-old and is perhaps telling of Jackson’s perspective on life. There is definitely pathos here; escapism is such a large part of this film’s concept that you can’t help but feel for Jackson’s need to have a normal life. Another recurring theme is the lack of sensitivity displayed by all the older people in the film: adults, according to Jackson, fall into just two categories ”“ hysterical fans and lascivious journalist/opportunists. The only people who seem to understand him are the children, who look up to him and accept him unquestioningly; it makes you want to believe that Jackson would never mean any harm to child, molestation allegations notwithstanding.
All in all, the movie is best watched more as a study of the man that was Michael Jackson than a piece of entertainment. It’s an interesting insight into the mind of practically the most maligned man in public memory and a reminder than the fallout of great fame might be a price that’s too high for anyone to pay.