By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Music DVD Review: Michael Jackson’s Vision on Blogcritics.
An older review I was remembering after checking out The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson by Michael Bush. Thought I’d share it here.
Michael Jackson’s Vision collects forty-two music videos, spread out over three DVDs. This isn’t the first time Jackson’s videos have been anthologized, but it is the most complete. Even casual fans will likely be very entertained by the vast array of short films, ten of which are making their DVD debut. The presentation is surprisingly no-frills, with wildly varying visual quality and only one audio option (PCM stereo).
The first two discs contain the bulk of the short films, arranged chronologically, with a very simple menu. There is a choice of viewing all uninterrupted, a random mix, or choosing individual songs from another menu. Disc one has sixteen shorts, including most of Jackson’s most iconic classics, totaling one hour and fifty-two minutes. We see the progression from the earliest promo clips for songs from 1979’s Off the Wall to the sophisticated productions of the Thriller and Bad era. The John Landis-directed “Thriller” is featured in its full fourteen minute glory. “Bad,” directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring Wesley Snipes, is included in its complete 18 minute form.
The ’80s videos have aged the best. There are a few duds, including the over-reaching “Man In the Mirror,” loaded with news footage documenting a wide variety of societal ills. A few straightforward performance clips, “Dirty Diana” and “Another Part of Me,” pale in comparison to the more interesting concepts. Somewhat lesser seen videos will be fun for casual fans who might not be familiar with them. The ten minute “Speed Demon” is a claymation extravaganza, while “Liberian Girl” is so chock full of celebrity cameos they are all credited at the end of the video.
Disc two is even longer, with nineteen videos for a total of two hours and five minutes. Nearly half of them come from the 1991 album Dangerous. The easy highlight is John Landis’ “Black or White,” the full eleven minute version complete with the controversial car and storefront window smashing. Directed by John Singleton, the nine minute “Remember the Time” is still a hoot, with Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson. Not as familiar is David Fincher’s elaborate “Who Is It,” a highly underrated single but a fairly incoherent video. Also a bit more obscure is the sepia-toned “In the Closet.”
The remainder of disc two is dominated by six videos from 1995’s HIStory. While most fans have seen “Scream” (featuring Janet Jackson) and “You Are Not Alone” (featuring Lisa Marie Presley), there are a few forgotten gems from this era. “Stranger In Moscow,” a classic song that became an undeserving flop single, is a moody black & white piece with cool slow-motion effects. The video for the ecology-themed “Earth Song” is as epic as the song itself, featuring striking backwards imagery of nature repairing itself.
In a very unfortunate decision, the terrific thirty-nine minute Michael Jackson’s Ghosts is represented by a four minute edit. The reduced version serves as a video for the Blood On the Dance Floor (1997) song “Ghosts.” The full mini-movie, co-written by Stephen King and directed by Stan Winston, features several songs and tons of impressive visual effects. To my knowledge, the full version has never been officially released on video outside of the United Kingdom. This was a missed opportunity by Sony to finally make it available on a wider basis.
The third disc is considered a bonus. At a mere 35 minutes with only seven videos, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t include more material. This would have been a good place for Captain EO, the aforementioned complete Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, or perhaps some interview footage. The seven videos that are included come from different eras. The first three are actually by The Jacksons, including “Can You Feel It.” This 1981 ten minute video bridged the gap between simple performance clips and the later elaborate productions.
“Say Say Say,” with Paul McCartney, is a fun short featuring Jackson and the ex-Beatle as con men. The sole previously unreleased video in the entire collection, “One More Chance,” is a very ho-hum affair. Jackson dances on tables at a nightclub, his back to the camera for the entire four minutes.
Some fans have wondered why there isn’t a Blu-ray release of this collection. The only reason I can come up with is that the vast majority of these videos would look like crap on a high definition format. Most of them unfortunately look pretty bad, apparently transferred from a video master rather than original film elements.
Even the cinematic productions like “Thriller” and “Bad” are disconcertingly mediocre, looking no better than on previous video collections. I guess no one really considered at the time that these short promotional films would be reissued over and over on increasingly unforgiving formats. While the visual quality generally improves as the videos progress from the ’70s to the ’00s, even “Cry” from 2001’s Invincible looks hazy.
Even if this is the very best these videos will ever look, it’s disappointing that a surround sound mix was not created. The 2.0 stereo sounds fine, but it really makes the collection feel like a non-event. Michael Jackson’s Vision contains about four and a half hours of content, retailing for $39.98. It’s nice to have so many videos in one package, but all the material could have comfortably fit on two discs instead of three