Monday, February 7, 2011

Film Review: MOONWALKER (1988, Jerry Kramer, Colin Chivers, & Jim Blashfield)

Stars: 3.9 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Brandon Quintin Adams (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, THE SANDLOT). Music by Michael Jackson, score by Bruce Broughton (THE MONSTER SQUAD, TOMBSTONE). Visual effects supervised by Hoyt Yeatman (THE ROCK, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE ABYSS). Special effects supervised by Kevin Pike (INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, THE LAST STARFIGHTER). Claymation by Will Vinton (THE CALIFORNIA RAISINS, THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN). Written by Michael Jackson and David Newman (BONNIE AND CLYDE, SUPERMAN, WHAT'S UP DOC?).
Tag-line: "On his soul, a king of music. On his heart, a king of beats."
Best one-liner: "There, get him! Come on, get him! Kill him, KILL HIM! Let's see how cool he is now!"

As I watched this film, my mind grappled with the perverse concept that we live in a universe where MOONWALKER could, and does, actually exist. Ultimately, upon holding the physical disc in my hands, feeling the weight of it, and confirming that fact with nearby witnesses, I was forced to conclude that the preceding 93 minutes were no mere fever-dream, but in fact a very real encounter with a very real movie. But what is it, exactly? A sci-fi flick? A musical? An anthology piece? A biopic? An auto-biopic? ...A horror omnibus?

I would surely not call it a horror omnibus unequivocally, but consider the following images and then tell me that it is not a horror movie:

So, now that I've adequately shoehorned MOONWALKER to fit my horror omnibus series, let's look at the film proper: MOONWALKER is utter outlandishness, a collage of ego and confusion, a self-portrait of a man-child, and a bizarre paean to the films of Steven Spielberg. In a nutshell, it's E.T., PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, TRANSFORMERS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, LISZTOMANIA, BACK TO THE FUTURE, and A HARD DAY'S NIGHT bundled together into a mélange masquerading as a Michael Jackson biopic.

As the film washes over you it relentlessly defies all rational thought, and as soon as your reeling brain has a tentative handle on any one of these peculiarities, a dozen more pop up to take its place, like so many moon-walking hydra heads:

Why are we crosscutting between Michael and Chernobyl, Mother Teresa, atomic bombs, Martin Luther King, and the Camp David Accords?

Why are there so many dogs in suits?

Why did claymation Michael Jackson just transform into claymation Tina Turner, and finally into claymation Pee-Wee Herman?

Why is it that the live-action approximations of creepy claymation are about 900 times scarier than the already creepy claymation?

And why is 'The Noid' there?! I hate The Noid!

Am I supposed to be thinking about HAUSU?

Why Texas?

Is that seriously a 'spider-wipe' transition?

Let me stop myself right there. Allow me to back up a moment and try to explain exactly what is happening here in one massive stream-of-consciousness run-on sentence hopefully worthy of William Faulkner:

Michael Jackson walks onto the screen, his feet tingling and sparkling, he performs in a series of concerts, crosscut with historical events and a fanciful best-of compilation that feels somehow as if MASTERPIECE THEATER were hijacked by the alien counterparts of the California raisins

and Michael is leading the troops off to battle but what battle and against who, it must be

electricity! do they seek to battle neon lightning? no matter

and then the rats descend and so many rats, rats! rats! rats!, but why? and

at least it made the papers, but
then the children with false facial hair are reenacting BAD, crotch grabs and all, and I am appalled but I am still watching

who's bad? they ask us
not I
I hope

and I get this same feeling when I am watching adults dressed as babies, dancing in diapers, why oh why?, you wish that I had never seen these things, but some things cannot be taken back, no matter how much you wish

and then child-Michael is man-Michael and he is chased by claymation hordes who want an autograph and perhaps a pound of flesh, but what is a pound of flesh to a creature made of clay? sprung and sculpted from the loins of the earth as it were,

and Michael is sincere, and Michael is happy, like a child, I have rarely seen such genuine happiness, and then he is a bunny, Michael is a claymation bunny, and he drives on and on, he escapes the Clay-parazzi, then divides with his bunny döppelganger, his bunnyganger, and they have a dance-off in Monument Valley (or is it that desert from the Looney Tunes?),

and Michael gets ticketed for dancing because there is no moonwalking allowed in the desert, it's bad for the plants but do not linger because

Michael is leading us on a tour of the tabloids, the carnival of his life, and Bubbles is in chains

we pass through the Elizabeth Taylor shrine, it frightens me, Liz, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and all that, and then dancing with the Elephant Man's bones, is that insensitive?, I wonder

(apologies to Joseph Merrick) but then he dismantles the funhouse of public perception and strides away like Gulliver, a titan amongst us mere Lilliputians, but suddenly Michael plays soccer with kids in a field, including Sean Lennon, and I wonder

who taught him to play soccer (football?), but the fun doesn't last long,

because they wander, Goonies-style, into a secret lair, the lair of Joe Pesci who likes bugs and drugs, bugs and drugs, bugs and drugs,

is that a ponytail or a cowlick, who cares he eats peanuts just the same

he has a master plan to write himself into the history books (getting kids high on bugs and drugs) but Michael stands in his way and for that he must die but Michael escapes the assassins' bullets and turns into a car (not a DeLorean) but it turns back time anyway because he IS the car, I suppose, and so it's the 1930's

and I guess the producers of Broadway's MEMPHIS were taking notes, detailed, detailed notes,

and we go into 'Smooth Criminal' and Michael crushes a cue ball with his bare hands

only dust remains

and then they dip in those patented shoes (not merely patent-leather, mind you, patented leather), you see Michael was an inventor, too, but the dancing doesn't last because Pesci naps a kid

he just wants to get everybody high, man, you know, some good drugs, bugs and drugs, bugs and drugs, but that doesn't fly with Michael, who is actually a giant robot who can fly (would have liked to have seen him in ROBOT JOX), and the heavens open, like when they open the ark in RAIDERS

and the transformation is complete and he lays waste to the armies of darkness (like the ark of the covenant) and then he flies back to outer space (like E.T.) and the children are crying

'Thank you, Michael!' they squeak from melancholy throats but it's not over till it's over and Michael comes back and takes them to a concert where he performs 'Come Together' which was a song by the Beatles, you remember who the Beatles are, don't you?,

and Sean Lennon righteously shakes glowsticks in time with the music and then there are three sets of closing credits because a lot of people worked on this movie and it goes on for about six minutes, and there is African folk music and some outtakes from 'Smooth Criminal' and then finally Michael winks at us, a knowing wink, because we know the secret now, the secret that he is a robot and the world is safe now because Pesci was exploded, safe from bugs and drugs, bugs and drugs and whatever else, forever and amen, the end.

-Sean Gill


GuyR said...

I'd say this absolutely fits the Horror Anthology genre.
It's also the most frightening of them all!
I dont EVER want to see the damn rabbit EVER again! NEVER!
But as the internet horde says : it cannot be unseen...
It stays in your mind...

I prefer thinking about the Sega Genesis game.
It's less dangerous.

Tempest said...

I have the VHS and not the DVD. I loved MJ when this came out and have not watched this in years. The Claymation images as I scrolled down your blog post were creepy. I stopped liking MJ in the 90s--I just thought he started acting too strange for my tastes. Looking back, this film is pretty scary in some ways and unnerving. Why dance with the Elephant Man's bones when the rumors pissed you off--I know the some was called Leave Me Alone and was meant to dispel the wacky rumors about him, but it may have done more harm than good. Yes, that sort of thing is mean, but if you're going to be a public figure, it seems like anyone in that position would have to grow a thicker skin. It seems to be much worse now than it was in the 80s and 90s.

Sean Gill said...


Ah yes, the terrifying rabbit head- NOT present in the video game as far as I can remember, thank God (same goes for 'The Noid').


If anything, MOONWALKER might make me less judgmental of MJ- it's sort of like peering directly into a stunted, childlike mind where ego and daydream grapple for supremacy, and comparisons between 'the self' and Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa aren't given a second thought, as if they're the most natural things in the world. Then you see the endless, screaming crowds- the sheer sizes of which are staggering, even in the world of rock stars- cheering him across the globe, and the Man-God-Child complex (while still not being excused) certainly makes a lot more sense. Who knows, maybe one day MOONWALKER will be used by psychologists as a case study.

GuyR said...

In a case study of Michael Jackson, I'd say it's essential, along with the documentary where he climbs in the tree.

Anonymous said...

This is the best review I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Anonymous, but not the same one as me.

Sean Gill said...

Anon #1 and Anon #2,

Thank you for the kind words!

Furienna said...

While this movie surely wasn't the best thing, that Michael ever did, I still love him from the bottom of my heart.

Furienna said...

By the way, I'd like to answer two of your questions.

1: The clips from historical events is in the "Man in the mirror" segment, because the song is about "making a change".

2: Texas is shown because a line in a song goes "I may be a little fellow, but my heart is as big as Texas".