Venice Film Festival: Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D & Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller

Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D
Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D by John Landis
Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller by Jerry Kramer
Out of Competition

by Joanna Orland

Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D has made its world premiere at the 74th Venice Film Festival. Using the original 35mm film negative, the film was neither reedited nor recut – original Thriller director John Landis used the latest technology to convert the legendary music video to 3D. The modernized visuals also needed some shiny new audio to accompany it, so the score and sound effects have all been updated to 5.7, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos standards. But it really doesn’t matter, because it was perfect in the first place – I’m just happy to have seen it on a big screen alongside other Michael Jackson fans, enjoying it again, many years after it was first created.

The 3D visuals are subtle, genuinely making me wonder why anyone would even bother. It’s true that I’m not the best to judge the visuals as my eyes are tired from endless cinema at the Venice Film Festival, but I barely even noticed anything popping out at me in 3D. There is a bit of a hazy blur over the visuals, alluding to the fact that it is indeed 3D, but I just couldn’t see it. I’m sorry, it really could just be me here – my colleague says that while yes, it is subtle, he did notice a few moments of emphasis, including the moon and the titles. But overall, it seems quite the effort for minimal reward.

The music and video are fantastic as always and have held up brilliantly after all these years. There was no one as talented as Michael Jackson, and there may never be again. The Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller documentary also adds a brilliant insight into how it was made, and how much fun was had making it. As the 3D music video / short film of Thriller is only 15 minutes, the curators at Venice Film Festival decided to air this old documentary from the early 80s just after it. The documentary originally premiered on television, and was available on VHS from 1983-1990, but was never again relicensed for television or available for purchase since 1990. The Venice screening is in fact the first time it has ever been shown in a theater.

Truly of its time, Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller has dated much more than its subject matter. It’s a documentary made in an old-fashioned style, with curiously long clips of unrelated material. What is brilliant here though is the actual behind-the-scenes footage from on set. John Landis and Michael Jackson seemed to have had such a strong chemistry, it is a delight to watch. The masterful makeup artist Rick Baker shows us how he transformed Michael into a werewolf, and it’s absolutely glorious. The choreography is so iconic, it’s amazing to watch the scenes where the dancers are learning it for the first time – with Michael swooping in as a natural talent, always the star of the show.

Amongst the other footage shown is Michael’s Motown performance of Billie Jean – the first time he performed the Moonwalk on camera. A couple of people in the Venice audience actually gasped in astonishment, as if they were watching this clip for the first time. This is a true testament to Michael Jackson’s talent, and his timeless style of entertainment.

While Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D and the Making of… documentary may bring nothing new to the table, it is always a treat to revisit Michael Jackson’s work, especially on the big screen. A festival is a perfect venue at which to celebrate the legendary king of pop, who still reigns.

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