A&E // 2009 // 282 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 25th, 2010
You only think you know them. Michael was the normal one.
It can't be easy to be a brother to "the King of Pop" and want to have the same musical fame he so easily grabbed. Living in his shadow must be rough, and even his untimely demise makes it even more difficult. The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty began filming a couple of months before Michael Jackson passed away, and so the first episode doesn't deal with the events around his death. Originally the series was to focus on the four other brothers as they prepared for an album and tour to celebrate their fortieth year in show business. Once the unthinkable happened, you would think they would tell the cameras to go away and never finish this series. But Jermaine, Marlon, Tito, and Randy allowed the production to keep rolling. Heck, they even grandstand for the producers giving the foursome a chance to eulogize Michael over and over on the show. The problem is that the ghost of Michael haunts every one of them, always suggesting from a dark corner that he was the light that made all of them possible. It's his voice you hear singing whenever a Jackson 5 hit is played, and his name reporters ask about again and again as the brothers travel the world seeking anybody who just wants to see them carry on.
This is supposed to be a reality program that captures real people having real moments. The promise is that we're going to go behind the scenes to see what the Jacksons are truly like. If you're hoping for family secrets and insights into the world's best known pop dynasty, you'll be disappointed. Their performances for the cameras are as calculated and choreographed as any stage show they have put on. You can tell they are posed in shots, throw tantrums that are carefully planned, cry on cue, and do things like play basketball to make them all look normal. But if you gaze hard enough you can see a four-decade-old act that is cracking at the seams as four middle aged wannabe stars grapple with the loss of what made them famous. Their kids seem to be more well-adjusted than parents who live in the delusion that they are somehow still recognizable all these years after their last album.
All of this probably makes The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty sound far more interesting than it truly is. While this Shakespearen tragedy does play out in interesting ways, the Jackson family makes sure you only see what they want you to see. That's not all that interesting, never very much, and only hardcore fans are going to be excited about it. Everything feels rehearsed and planned out; not a single moment feels spontaneous. They all put on their masks that they wear whenever they are in front of the press. We see Jermaine worrying that if his gorgeous wife kisses him he'll have make-up on his face, so he shuns her for the sake of his image on camera. Tito wears stage costumes all the time to make himself appear a little more flashy, as he's the only Jackson never to release a solo project. Marlon and Randy seem like cardboard cutouts saying the right things at the right times, and never showing their human side. It's canned and feels like a commercial for the inevitable album and tour that will surely not do very well without the scorching talent of the brother that is no longer with them.
For the DVD we get six full episodes and no extras. A&E provides us with an image that looks just fine given the documentary approach, and it sounds okay with a two channel stereo mix. I had hoped maybe we would get some deleted scenes or even a commentary here and there, something to let us know more than what ended up on the screen. But alas, we only have the scripted peek behind a curtain that has been up four decades. This is a release that is simply out there so that fans without cable or those who wish to have a copy without commercials can grab it. Certainly there should be quite a few of those, but Michael's fans will do better with a copy of Michael Jackson's This Is It.
This one is for those curious to see what the other brothers are up to now that he's gone. The big debate swirling around all of them will be "Are they honoring the legacy or exploiting what is left of the magic that was never theirs?" The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty gives the impression that somehow they are managing to do both. Certainly these guys have some talent, and they still have fans who want to see them succeed. But the sad part is, they think they are far more important than they ever were. I wish the show would let us see them warts and all, but that is too much to hope for. By the way, we hardly see anything of the rest of the family. Strangely absent through most of this are any of the sisters, and only the parents make some cameos here and there. I think a more intriguing serial could be built around the antics of the female side of the family as they try and carry on, but apparently they have more sense and less desperation. Janet doesn't need the money anyway, and LaToya has already been overexposed. The dynasty will carry on, and the show will still be scripted...with or without the cameras.
Guilty of letting four brothers think they are still stars.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 282 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated