Reissue Theory: “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker”
Welcome to yet another installment of Reissue Theory, where we celebrate notable releases and the reissues they could someday see. On the King of Pop’s birthday, we remember one of the Bad era’s least-remembered but most captivating pieces of merchandise: Michael Jackson’s first feature film.
The past year has seen quite the revival of interest in Michael Jackson’s 1987 album Bad. It’s hard to imagine an album that sold multiplatinum levels of records and spawned a record-setting five consecutive No. 1 hits might be considered “overrated” or “underrated,” but then again, how many albums have to follow up Thriller, Jackson’s magnum opus and the best-selling album in history?
In 2012, Legacy Recordings honored Bad with a lavish 25th anniversary box set featuring some intriguing unreleased demos and a captivating solo concert from London’s Wembley Arena in 1988. This year, Bad and its gems were featured in two specially-created digital box sets for iTunes, and, to time with a new Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, Legacy released Spike Lee’s Bad 25 documentary – shown in edited form on American network television last winter – in full on DVD and Blu-Ray. (As our friends at Popblerd can tell you, it’s absolutely essential viewing for fans of all shades.)
With this level of product, it’s hard to wish that there could be just one more title to satiate fan desire. But, as is so often the case, there’s certainly one more worthy release from the Bad era – and its absence has, it seems, less to do with oversaturating the market and more to do with who has the rights. I’m talking, of course, about Jackson’s strangely captivating feature film, Moonwalker.
Intended to tie a bow around the Bad era, Moonwalker is essentially a film-length collection of short-form music videos and longer featurettes. The most present “plot” is in the nearly-hourlong film for “Smooth Criminal,” the seventh and final U.S. single from Bad (and its sixth Top 10). In it, Jackson acts as a protector to a trio of plucky kids (one of whom is Sean Lennon, John and Yoko’s son) from a group of ruthless gangsters, led by a delightfully manic Joe Pesci (a full three years before his Oscar win for Goodfellas). Car chases abound, Michael leads an elaborate Fosse/Minnelli-esque dance number to “Smooth Criminal” (complete with his newest choreographed trick, the anti-gravity lean) and…well, let’s just say you haven’t lived until you’ve seen MJ turn into a robot spaceship.
That one clip could sum up the intense, grandiose art of the Bad album – but Michael’s attention doesn’t stay that focused. Moonwalker features Michael dancing with a Claymation biker rabbit (“Speed Demon”), lampooning his own image by turning himself into a carnival (“Leave Me Alone”), covering The Beatles’ “Come Together” and overseeing a shot-for-shot remake of Martin Scorsese’s “Bad” short film starring a cast of children. Add in your usual dose of MJ mythologizing (a 10-minute montage of his accomplishments to date) and you’ve got a lengthy but rarely boring addition to the Michael Jackson catalogue.
After the jump, we talk why Moonwalker is more or less M.I.A. on DVD, and what we’d add to it if it were available!
Moonwalker was intended as a theatrical release, but for whatever reason, its biggest success was on videotape; it was alongside Jackson’s beloved E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in terms of blockbuster video sales. (There was also a truly wacky adaptation of the film for Sega video game systems.) But its relative absence in the world of DVD is stunning. (The film has never officially been officially released in Region 1.) By all accounts, Sony actually doesn’t have distribution rights: licensing credits on Bad 25 indicate the film copyright actually resides with Warner Bros. (Indeed, WB released a region-free Blu-Ray in 2010.) Of course, with so many MJ songs from both the Epic years (and a few from the Motown era) included in the film, getting everything in a row between so many entities makes a Moonwalker release challenging.
A fully-remastered film would be enough of a treat for this writer. Imagine hearing the songs of Bad (many in alternate edits or some discrete mixes) in 5.1, with stunning picture quality to boot. (The segments of Moonwalker that have been released on DVD are of varying quality; “Speed Demon,” as seen on Michael Jackson’s Vision, appears to have some tape artifact issues toward the end.) For additional features, why not include the remainder of the Bad videography – including the oft-overlooked “short edit” of “Smooth Criminal,” featuring highly stylized alternate footage from the original long version. Heck, I’d even enjoy seeing MJ’s lengthy “short films” for Pepsi included – or perhaps the original Bad teaser, the CBS program Michael Jackson: The Magic Returns.
And, just for fun, why not throw in a “soundtrack CD” featuring some of the tracks from the film as well as rare or unreleased mixes? It would be a nice companion piece to Bad 25, which put the remixes aside in favor of unreleased tunes (all the better for it, at the time).
All in all, we hold out hope that someone, somewhere, will unlock the mysteries of Moonwalker on DVD – if only so we can remember just how crazy/captivating it all really was, some 25 years ago.
Michael jackson’s Moonwalker: A Hypothetical Soundtrack EP
- Man in the Mirror (Live Film Version) (previously unreleased)
- Speed Demon (New Extended Mix) (previously unreleased)
- Leave Me Alone (Extended Dance Version) (previously unreleased)
- Smooth Criminal (Extended Film Remix) (previously unreleased)
- Come Together (Full Version) (released on “Remember the Time” U.K. single – Epic 657774, 1992)
- The Moon is Walking – Ladysmith Black Mambazo (previously unreleased)