Film A Week 25: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (1988)

The ultimate pop culture icon of the 80’s was, without a doubt, Michael Jackson. In between the Cold War paranoia and the Reaganomics enforced during Regan’s run in office, Michael Jackson was inescapable. Being the self-proclaimed King of Pop is a hard job to tackle as Jackson ruled with classic records like Thriller and massive singles topping Top 40 radio that only current artist every dream of accomplishing. Of course, this was before Jackson was shunned by the media and dubbed ‘Wacko Jacko’ for abnormal behavior, which we personally will avoid getting into. Michael Jackson even had a film made after the success of his Bad album to cement his mark of all into film in the form of the ridiculous and over the top vanity project, 1988’s Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

Moonwalker is just unbelievable with Michael Jackson strutting his stuff, singing his ass off, grabbing his crotch like he needs to run to the nearest restroom and filled with more stop motion that even the late Ray Harryhuesen would say is overdoing it. In order to understand the insanity of this film is to review each segment as its own separate entities, so ‘SHAMONE!’ and stay along for the ride.

The film starts off with Michael Jackson touring the globe singing his classic and his most personal song ‘Man in the Mirror’ with fans passing out, running onto the stage to get kicked out and possibly vomiting with happiness violently over the thought of the man. As this happens, images of great and humble peacemakers appear to further the statement that the man in the mirror can change the world, if he truly believes he cane. Remember, if one were Michael Jackson, all one  would have to do is go “I’m gonna change the world” and the world will say “Fuck it, let’s change for Michael.” That is how powerful he was at the time. This goes on for a good five minutes until we hit the ‘Retrospective’.

In this an entire tribute to Michael Jackson’s work up until bad is paid homage to with trinkets, classic songs and some creepy ass claymation with the Jackson 5 resembling the damn California Raisins. This segment last about eight minutes and seems pretty pointless, which is probably enough time to go stock up on booze at the local liquor because you might need it for the rest of the craziness that is to occur like the next segment entitled “Badder.”

Just look at the video above. Even without clicking it, one can already see it is the entire main segment of the “Bad” video remade with children. It’s pretty adorable if corny with a kid grabbing his gonads so hard in the vain of Michael, his face ends up looking like the ‘O’ face from Hell.

And because I am so kind, here is that ‘O’ face from Hell in its pure glory

Yea, so not much on that front except for a sly stab at the Prince vs. Michael Jackson dispute surrounding the 80’s. Was there really a debate? Their styles are so vastly different, there should not have been one. Yet, if there was, Michael won for not resorting to making a sequel to this movie unlike Prince’s godawful Under the Cherry Moon, the follow-up to Purple Rain. Anywho, I am getting off track. The next segment, “Speed Demon”, keeps the claymation trend that was popular at the time for reasons unknown.

Now this is were it gets really, for lack of a better word, fuckin’ weird. Michael is being hunted by insane claymation fans as he hides, turns into a claymation rabbit, becomes claymation celebrities and escapes to the the desert. In the desert, Michael takes off the rabbit disguise, but the disguise turns into its own entity and dances alongside Michael because, dammit, it’s Disney magic or something like that. Also, in true Michael Jackson fashion, it is about ten minutes long. Damn you Michael and your long videos. On the one hand, more Michael, the better. The other hand, he is responsible for Lady Gaga’s pretentious music videos like ‘Alejandro’ and ‘Marry the Night. It is not as great as his other video works, but the claymation blend with live action is pretty stellar.  The next video is one music video of his I really love.

“Leave Me Alone” is one hell of a music video combining live-action and animation alongside creative backgrounds, cutting footage of Elizabeth Taylor into this insane Michael Jackson amusement park and tackling the rumors of Jackson at the time head on with the tongue firmly in cheek. The video is essentially a photo collage on steroids and up there with Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” as one of the most innovative music videos of the 80’s. Designing this video and bringing it to life must have been a chore, but the devotion and effort put into it is something to admire. The song itself is just fantastic. A good break up song telling the other just to back off so Michael can move on with his life. Sadly, the next segment, the centerpiece, once again too damn long to start and tell its story, but the music video in the middle of it is utter brilliance.

Don’t get any wrong ideas, readers

Michael Jackson is getting out of his house in a nice white suit until he is attack by unknown mooks shooting from above. As this goes down, it cuts to a flashback of Michael in a field playing with his dog Skipper and his pal Katie as they stumble upon an underground drug ring compound run by Mr. Big, played by Joe Pesci. Yes, Joe Pesci who could barely catch Kevin McCallister but will out curse you is in a Michael Jackson film. They are seen by Mr. Big  and escape the compound with Mr. Big sending his men to find Michael with Michael’s child friends (stop making that face) witnessing the action. After this whole flashback, Michael Jackson outruns his foes, shapes shifts into a car (no bullshit, that happens), attacks them and escape to an abandoned club to hide out leading to his classic “Smooth Criminal”.

Now this segments kicks all kinds of ass. The song itself is a near perfect blend of thumping bass, simple electronic drums and mysterious synth pop styling alongside the voice of Michael Jackson driving the tale of finding the smooth criminal who attacked Annie. It makes since it would take place in a 1930’s club with Michael Jackson’s always terrific choreography and dancing taking the forefront. The video even has an odd breakdown section were the music comes to a halt with the dancers screaming out and moaning the lyrics. It is sexually provocative, which is something I normally would not say about Jackson’s work. Mr. Big’s men approach and what those Michael Jackson do? Guns them down with his Tommy gun that he pulled out of Hammerspace. This video is one of my favorite of Jackson’s and seeing it again with some context behind is quite a blast. After this badassery, Michael returns to Mr. Big’s compound after Big kidnaps Katie. Michael is ambushed and cannot seem to defeat his men. Maybe he should have saved his Tommy gun for this moment. Sadly, Michael is at a loss…until he turns into a goddamn robot.

Which looks more like Robot Lionel Richie, but I digress

Michael Jackson blasts his men away, saves Katie from utter destruction, transforms into a fighter jet because he can do that now and defeat Mr. Big’s giant laser cannon with the power of his famous orgasmic ‘OOOOH!’ and saves the day. Michael leaves his child friends and vows to return one day. The kids wish on a star for Michael to come back sooner and sure enough he does. Michael leads them to an underground basement (oh, goddammit) to a concert with Michael Jackson performing a cover of The Beatles’ classic, “Come Together”.

Michael’s take on the song fits right into the era and works with his imagining. It may not be on par with the original, but even then, it is nice to see Michael take on a Beatles song before stabbing Paul McCartney in the back to take half the rights to them.

Michael: “I WANT YOUR SOUL…I mean, SONGS!”

After, the film ends and Ladysmith Black Mabazo appear out of damn nowhere to perform “The Moon is Walking”, which is a neat number by them that wraps the whole experience of this vanity project nicely.

That was Moonwalker, a product of its time that is a sight for fans to behold, but not necessarily the casual audience to view. If you love the man’s work and what he does, this is a perfect watch. It is akin to the music films of the modern age such as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me providing nothing but fan service and being solely for that audience. With that in mind, the film is a bit clunky at points and borders on ‘what the fuck were they thinking?’, but is all in all a good time to be had seeing the King of Pop back when he reigned and took the world by storm.

Next week, Film A Week takes a holiday…Film A Week 26 is taking a holiday…a ‘Roman Holiday’ that is. Join guest writer Veronica Hurtado on a whirlwind adventure alongside Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the romantic-comedy classic that is sure to delight with Hepburn making her ‘true’ film debut on a special earlier date, Wednesday, July 3rd.

Film A Week 26: Roman Holiday (1953)

Wednesday, July 3rd

Oh, and I forgot one thing.

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker the video game is crazy fun. The arcade version takes Jackson’s tunes in the 16-bit sound and the insanity that was the ‘Smooth Criminal’ segment and expands upon it taking on evil robots, 1930’s gangsters and zombies. The powerups including turning into a robot to eliminate enemies faster is beyond fun and the ‘dance move’ has your enemies mimic Jackson’s moves til they die instantly. They die with the Power of Pop. If you ever get a chance to play it, either on the Genesis or the arcade version, I suggest you grab a couple of friends and tackle Moonwalker.


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