The long-rumored 3D version of the game-changing short film Thriller is now slated to make its world premiere. The estate of Michael Jackson announces today (Aug. 7) that Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D will debut at the 74th annual Venice Film Festival (Aug. 30-Sept. 9).
In addition, the accompanying Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller documentary-- originally available on VHS between 1983-1990 and not available for purchase in any format since then -- will be screened in Venice. This will mark the first time that the award-winning documentary has been shown in a theater.
With its nearly 14-minute running time and feature film aesthetics, Thriller redefined the traditional video when it opened at the Avco Theatre in Los Angeles in 1983 for a sold-out three-week run. The short film was directed by John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places). He also co-wrote the script with Jackson, who had been intrigued by the title character’s metamorphosis in Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. Now 34 years later, Landis says that his and Jackson’s initial vision has come full circle.
“All of the copies of Thriller out there now are duped,” Landis tells Billboard, “and it used to drive me crazy. I’d been trying to get to the negative for a long time as the new digital technologies are amazing at restoring films. And Michael and I always intended for people to see Thriller in a movie theater.
“But we didn’t just restore Thriller,” Landis continues. “We enhanced it … like in that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the others are being buffed and polished inside Emerald City.”
Working in tandem with Optimum Productions, Landis helped supervise the labor-intensive restoration process that began with an extremely high-resolution version of the original 35mm negative (which wasn’t re-edited or recut in any way) before the actual 3D conversion. The enhancement also encompassed all the audio in the film from Jackson’s music and Elmer Bernstein’s score to the movie’s sound effects.
Remarking on Thriller 3D’s “spectacular visuals,” Landis teases that viewers also will be treated to a shocking surprise. Declining to reveal more hints, he says only that the “surprise takes advantage of 3D in a way that’s very effective.”
John Branca, co-executor of the estate of Michael Jackson, describes the restored and enhanced Thriller as “authentic, visceral and still impactful. When you see it in a theater on the big screen with a theater-level sound system, it’s pretty unbelievable,” he adds. “Michael was going to use 3D elements on the This Is It tour, so this is something Michael would have done. He would love this.”
Branca and fellow Jackson estate co-executor John McClain will join Landis when Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D is screened at the Venice Film Festival along with the original Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was Branca, Jackson’s then-attorney, who negotiated the history-making deal between MTV and Showtime for this first of its kind documentary, which helped offset the cost of filming Thriller.
According to Branca, more news and events tied to Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D will be announced in the coming weeks. Thriller remains the only music video to be inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.