Jackson movie a thriller in worldwide premiere

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Michael Jackson delivered a posthumous thriller Tuesday as fans flocked to worldwide premieres of a documentary film billed as the final concert performance of the King of Pop.

Four months after Jackson's death, red carpets were rolled out for 18 simultaneous screenings on five continents for "This Is It," culled from more than 100 hours of footage taken from rehearsals for the pop icon's comeback.

The Los Angeles premiere began as parts of the city were plunged into darkness as punishing gusts downed dozens of power lines.

Gesturing to the strong winds buffeting the event, Jackson's former manager Frank DiLeo joked: "He's happy. You can feel him spinning around in the air here ... He's looking down right now laughing his rear end off."

Travis Payne, choreographer for the show, added: "It's time to celebrate Michael, to rejoice in his wonderful message of peace and love. People will enjoy seeing the Michael Jackson I always got to see."

The Hollywood screening mirrored events being held in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America before the two-hour film comes out in 99 countries on Wednesday for a limited two-week release.

In Beijing, a troupe of Jackson impersonators grabbed their crotches and moonwalked for hundreds of screaming fans as the movie premiered in China.

Fans wearing single white gloves and clutching posters of the late pop star shrieked as the lookalikes danced in unison to hits like "Thriller" and "Beat It" outside the central Beijing cinema where the film was screened at midnight.

Early reviews of the movie were positive.

The USA Today newspaper said that while the film did not "restore Jackson to his past glory" it did "offer glimpses of his bygone greatness."

"The songs remind us that early this summer, the world lost a genuine, if genuinely troubled, star," it said.

Melanie Hillman, a television producer who attended the Los Angeles premiere, said the movie had captured the imagination of the audience.

"Sometimes you were sitting in your seat like, 'wow.' People were crying, clapping, cheering," she told AFP.

Advance tickets to shows in several countries sold out within days as fans scrambled to be among the first to see a film billed by Sony Pictures as the movie of "a concert that never happened."

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

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

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

The movie also got a stamp of approval from Jackson's long-time friend and confidante, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was privy to a sneak preview.

Taylor, who recently underwent heart surgery, hailed the movie as the "single most brilliant piece of filmmaking I have ever seen" in a post on micro-blogging site Twitter.

"It cements forever Michael's genius in every aspect of creativity."

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

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

But audience members at the first screening said Jackson looked healthy in the film.

"Michael Jackson was very fit. Very healthy. It was the old Michael Jackson, the young Michael Jackson," Hillman said. "I was really surprised how creative and healthy and rhythmic he was."

Los Angeles government workers Fernando Ramirez and Jacqueline Martinez also gave the film the stamp of approval, saying the documentary hinted that Jackson might have made a successful comeback.

"I thought it showed that he still had it, he had the strength to continue," Ramirez said. "His attention to detail really came across in the film."