Year: 1988
Production Co: Ultimate Productions
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Jerry Kramer/Jim Blashfield/Colin Chilvers
Producer: Jerry Kramer/Michael Jackson/Frank M Dileo
Writer: Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon

Around the time of Thriller (the early 80s) a publicity shot of Michael Jackson emerged of him smiling in a pair of jeans, yellow T shirt, oversized brown leather jacket and a big guitar belt buckle. Years later the look would be firmly in fashion. Jackson's problem was also his biggest strength – he was always 10 years ahead of his time, and the same could be said for this film now I write this review of it 23 years later.

In 1988 we had a fairly narrow idea of what a movie could be. We do today too, but fashions in movie tastes (from the documentary to animation) and the digital revolution that's put a camera in everyone's hands has opened the field up to so many new forms. Today we're used to seeing far more outlandish storytelling structures (as well as the stories themselves) on the big screen.

In fact for all the hand wringing about the lack of originality in Hollywood and the studios' having co-opted the indie film movement with their arthouse divisions, it's never been easier to get a brand new vision in front of audiences.

I'd like to think Jackson's vision was mostly responsible for this movie because he's listed as a producer and writer along with an enclave of directors and editors who worked on each segment. Because when you look back on it, it was visionary.

We open with concert footage of Jackson performing Man in the Mirror to screaming, fainting fans, followed by a segue into a retrospective of hits from his whole career. When it gets to Bad (the album he was heavily promoting at the time) the music video is a carbon copy of the actual promo video but with little kids in each role.

The grown up Michael emerges from the shooting of the video on some Hollywood backlot and finds himself pursued by rabid fans in an extended and inventive live action/animated version of Speed Demon, another track from Bad that tells a mini story culminating with him dancing with a dress-up rabbit costume on a desert highway.

It's followed by another music video (for Leave Me Alone) then we enter the 'primary' story, almost half an hour into the film, where Michael and his young friends stumble upon the underground stronghold of drug baron Mr Big (Pesci), whose ire they attract when they're discovered.

After the goons shoot up Michael's front door in a deserted and foggy New York-style neighbourhood they chase him through the streets before he turns into a wacky-lookling concept sports car to outrun them. Finding his way to a seedy hooch parlour called the 30s Club, Michael performs an extended music video rendition of Smooth Criminal before Mr Big's goons burst in and take him prisoner.

They take him to the hollowed out volcano-style stronghold where Mr Big already has Katie – one of Michael's little friends – hostage. Enraged, Michael slowly turns into a robotic mech warrior, shoots the place up, turns into a futuristic fighter plane to take care of Mr Big and then flies off into space.

He then returns to where his little friends are depressed and missing him, takes them back to the 30s club and goes onstage to an adoring crowd to perform a whining guitar version of Come Together by The Beatles.

Sound weird? Wait until you watch it. Midway through the Smooth Criminal segment the music stops, the lighting changes and for what feels like about ninety seconds everybody rolls around the club clapping, hooting, stamping and nodding like it's an acting class in unfiltered emotional expression.

In a single beat the lights come back, everyone falls into line and the song and choreography are back to full life. Along with the no-rules narrative structure and the fact that there's actually more than one narrative style (in more than one story), it's not the only experimental flourish.

It also predates the mech worship we love in films like Transformers by decades – a couple of years before CGI found its way to films. The three or so minute sequence of Michael changing into an armoured robot is full of the visual satisfaction of the clunks, snaps and whirring cogs of Optimus Prime or Bumblebee turning into a truck or Camaro.

Of course there are holes. For one, Michael was never an actor. Watching him threaten Mr Big with his 'do it and you're dead' line is as scary as a tin of chicken soup.

And after all this time, is it dated? Did we have any inkling Jackson at 50 would be a media tragedy and die early, as reclusive as Howard Hughes, with allegations of child abuse behind him and without a hit record for over a decade? If we did, would it make any difference? If you have an opinion or prejudgement about Jackson, put it to one side and watch Moonwalker as it was intended.

Completely dismissed at the time to the extent it was released straight to video rather than theatres, it's an exercise in realising that you're only truly limited by your imagination when it comes to what you're allowed to put in a movie. It's only Hollywood that dictates terms and structure, and we subscribe to them unconsciously. Jackson and his collaborators could have taught us years ago to realise that and break free from it.

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