Jackson fans prepare for concert movie farewell

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The Independent Culture

Michael Jackson fans will get a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been Tuesday as the movie charting the tragic singer's final concert rehearsals makes its long-awaited premiere.

More than 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage for Jackson's aborted comeback have been distilled into a two-hour film being hyped by organizers as the last ever performance by the "King of Pop."

Jackson family members and stars are expected to descend on a red carpet at Los Angeles's Nokia Theater, one of more than 15 simultaneous premieres being held in across five continents.

The movie -- "This Is It" -- will go on a limited two-week release in theaters worldwide from Wednesday, with advance tickets in several countries selling out within days of going on sale last month.

"It's a movie about rehearsing for a concert that never happened," Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal told Entertainment Weekly. "It's heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time."

Jackson, who died on June 25 aged 50, had spent the previous four months rehearsing in Los Angeles for a gruelling series of 50 concerts scheduled to begin at London's 02 Arena in July.

More than 800,000 tickets for the concerts had been sold, with organizers promising one of the "most expensive and technically advanced" live shows ever.

Jackson was putting the finishing touches to the show at the time of his death, which authorities in Los Angeles have ruled a homicide.

Video footage from the rehearsals had been intended to help organizers critique the show and was never intended for viewing by the public. The footage was snapped up for 60 million dollars by Sony after executives saw only several minutes of images.

"We had a very strong gut feeling that this could be a cultural event despite the fact that none of us really saw any of the footage before we concluded the deal," Sony's production president, Doug Belgrad told the Los Angeles Times.

Sony has said an "unprecedented number" of shows across the United States have sold out and other cities including London, Sydney, Bangkok and Tokyo experienced similar levels of demand after tickets went on sale last month.

London distributor Vue Entertainment said the movie sold 30,000 tickets within 24 hours, outstripping demand for blockbusters such as "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings."

"I've never seen anything like it in the 25 years I have been film buying," Vue director Stuart Boreman said.

Analyst Jeff Bock of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations said the film could "play bigger than Elvis."

"This is more of a memorial than a movie," Bock told AFP. "I think we could be looking at 70 to 100 million dollars in the first five days alone, which is extraordinary for this type of film.

"People are booking it in groups, it's something that people want to experience together. Maybe we're talking about a phenomenon here.

"People are going to see this as a memorial and a service for someone, who was arguably the icon of the 1980s and 1990s."

Bock expressed skepticism that Sony would stick to their original schedule of limiting the release to only two weeks worldwide.

"I don't buy that for a second," he said. "I expect there to be a drop-off after the first week but if the numbers are still strong I think you will see the film get an extended run in theaters."

Despite the anticipation surrounding the film, a group of diehard Jackson fans have launched an online campaign urging devotees of the singer to boycott the movie, claiming it hides the truth about his final days.

The group claim on their website -- "This-Is-Not-It" -- that the movie attempts to mask Jackson's physical frailty as he maintained a punishing schedule of rehearsals.

"In the weeks leading up to Michael Jackson's death, while this footage was being shot, people around him knew that he looked like he might have died," the group said. "Those who stood to make a profit chose to ignore it."

Associates of Jackson have insisted the singer was in good health during the rehearsals.