I Saw Michael Jackson’s THRILLER At The Theater This Week And So Should You
For one week only (until September 28th), a fully remastered 3D-ified version of Michael Jackson’s immortal music-video-or-is-it-a-short-movie Thriller comes to theaters — attached to the children’s movie, The House With A Clock In Its Walls preceding select IMAX showings of the film.
Not being interested in the film, I paid top dollar to sit in the theater for 15 minutes.
… and it was magical. It was like seeing Captain EO at Disneyland but without a 45 minute wait. Oh, never mind — I had to sit through a bunch of captive audience ads and trailers first ... but at least I was sitting in the air conditioning instead of a hot sweaty line in Anaheim.
The print has never looked better. After chasing a decent copy on the internet for decades it makes me happy to know that this has been painstakingly restored. I’ve seen things in the video I’ve never been able to see before in standard definition.
Did I mention the soundtrack has been remixed into a brand new Dolby ATMOS track? Good lord, IMAX sound was amazing before but hearing that rhythm baseline echoing through the seats of the cinema was amazing.
I know, I know. 3D is so … dead. But dammit, I love seeing it occasionally at the theater. The original material was well respected and there were no cheap 3D effects or nonsense. It was immersive without being gimmicky.
The balance of the film is unchanged — and it holds up remarkably well thanks to the Rick Baker Academy Award winning makeup effects. Nothing within the film was touched or altered (with the exception of the last second or two — but it was an addition, not a change).
We can hope that eventually this print will be available in some form of physical medium that can be protected for generations to come.
In the meantime, if you’re a huge Michael Jackson fan — or merely a fan of the song and the pop culture phenomenon it produced — you really need to get your butt to the theater. No, you don’t have to stay for the movie it is attached to. I wasn’t the only one walking out after Michael was done.
In 35 years, Thriller will still be remembered. I assure you, The House With A Clock In Its Walls will not be.
While we wait, let’s look back at the inception of this fantastic slice of music history.
In 1981, director John Landis created a piece of cinematic movie history with the horror-comedy film An American Werewolf in London. Without computers. Without CGI. Without digital effects.
Using practical makeup effects, Landis and special effects wizard Rick Baker convincingly transformed actor David Naughton into a full-blown werewolf.
So great was the effect that the Academy Awards essentially had to make up an award for it; Best Makeup awarded to Rick Baker.
The movie was hip, funny — and scary.
In November of 1982, pop prince Michael Jackson released one of the best selling albums of all time; Thriller. Number one hits like Beat It, Billie Jean and of course the album’s title track Thriller drove the record into infamy.
During the summer of 1983, Jackson was worried about the lagging sales of the album. Jackson’s manager mentioned the idea of making a third music video, using Thriller as the musical bed — saying, “It’s simple — all you have to do is dance, sing, and make it scary.”
Having seen Werewolf in August 1983, Michael Jackson reached out to filmmaker Landis to direct the video.
Jackson bankrolled the $500,000 (rumored to be more) from his own pocket to produce the near 14 minute music video — which was shot like a small movie. They grabbed makeup master Rick Baker and musical composer Elmer Bernstein and shot the film which completed principle photography at the end of October 1983.
Joining Jackson on the screen was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray.
On December 2nd, 1983 the short film was released on the greatest music television vehicle of the time, MTV. The cable channel would air and re-air the film almost non-stop and there wasn’t a soul around the water cooler the following day that didn’t have something to say about it.
For the next 35 years, Thriller (both the song and the video) would be parodied, referenced in pop culture, inspire haunted attractions and firmly plant itself in the hearts (and the National Film Registry) of millions.
Here are just a few homages to this video legend.