Los Angeles Times
November 14, 1991

At 4 a.m. on Halloween, the imposing double red doors at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood opened to reveal a man clothed fully in black, including a color-coordinated surgical mask. It wasn't a wayward trick-or-treater or a cat burglar. Pop legend Michael Jackson had come to supervise the final work on his much-anticipated album, "Dangerous."

Jackson's mythic perfectionism already had delayed the release of the album by several months. More than 50 possible tracks had been recorded at studios around Los Angeles over the course of a year -- reportedly driving the production cost to a staggering $8 million to $10 million. Now, with the 14 songs Jackson culled from the sessions finally in hand, a crew of bleary-eyed recording engineers labored around the clock to create a cohesive-sounding record.

As Jackson worked in the control room alongside engineer-producer Bruce Swedien and Grundman, a group of employees from Jackson's label, Sony Corp.'s Epic Records, stood ready to hand deliver each of the master copies to eight pressing plants around the world. One was dispatched to Holland. Another to Australia. A third to New Jersey. A Sony corporate jet even joined the "Dangerous" transport fleet.

That's a long way from overnight mail, which is how some non-superstar masters get to pressing plants. But extremes are the norm in the bigger-than-life world of Michael Jackson, who has pulled out all the stops to reaffirm his status as the world's reigning pop god with "Dangerous."

"I'm a little worried now. How can anything live up to this hype?" wondered director John Landis, who directed Jackson's newest music video, "Black or White," as well as 1983's pioneering "Thriller." "It's like the Second Coming."

"You're dealing with the most important recording artist in the world," said David Geffen, the record industry mogul and an informal adviser to Jackson. "Everything Michael does has a lot of thought and energy. He's a perfectionist."

The multimedia blitzkrieg began several weeks ago with the airing of a stylishly surreal commercial filmed by director David Lynch and the release last week of the first single, "Black or White." It continues tonight with the worldwide premiere of the "Black or White" music video, an 11-minute extravaganza with state-of-the-art special effects. The $4-million video -- which the folks at Sony and in Jackson's camp prefer to call a short film -- will be available to 280 million households in 69 countries during the course of the day.

The album arrives Nov. 26, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Retailers are looking to Jackson to help wake the industry from its recent sales slumber. For Sony Corp. the stakes are much higher: "Dangerous" is the first offspring of its huge new deal with Jackson, which covers everything from movies to video games. Practically everyone expects the album to do well. But to live up to Jackson's high standards it must sell somewhere between the 25 million copies of 1987's "Bad" and the benchmark 48 million of "Thriller."

And the beat goes on. More than 400 crew members will be on hand Friday and Saturday at an airplane hanger at Santa Monica Airport, when Jackson tapes his performance for MTV's 10th anniversary special, set to air on ABC Nov. 27. That's 10 times the norm, crew members say.

Those who have heard "Dangerous" insist that fans of the reclusive 33-year-old performer will not be disappointed. While the record is full of Jackson's trademark yelps and dance rhythms, it also includes contemporary touches such as rap and sampling. Jackson loyalists describe it as "big" or "magical" -- two words that Jackson seems to live by.

The singer's legendary obsessiveness with besting himself was in full flower during the making of the album, according to people involved in the project. More than 50 songs were recorded, re-recorded and then mostly discarded. Four recording studios costing $30,000 a day each were said to be tied up by the "Dangerous" crew at the height of the project.

One delay was caused by Jackson serving as host and best man for Elizabeth Taylor's recent wedding. Jackson also had to contend with bad publicity generated by a scathing book by his sister, La Toya, and a song by his brother, Jermaine, that criticized his cosmetic surgeries.

Sources say Jackson's tapes came in with virtually no time to spare, given the number of days it takes to make the CDs, cassettes and LPs, and deliver them to stores around the world. Despite that, Jackson insisted on full attention to detail, recording engineer Grundman said. The engineers hand-made an extraordinary 16 first-generation masters of "Dangerous" in order to ensure that the highest possible sound quality would be achieved at pressing plants.

Sony, the Japanese electronics giant that signed Jackson to a new contract in March, never pressed Jackson on a precise delivery date on "Dangerous," though it hoped at one point to have the album out by summer.

"No superstar album is supposed to be in by a certain date," said one source. "Guys like Jackson work at their own pace." Executives at Sony can only hope all the effort pays off. The multimedia deal gives Jackson virtual autonomy over his activities, as well as an unusually large chunk of the profits.

One associate described Jackson as "exhausted" after "working his tushy off" to complete the record and video in time for Sony's multimillion-dollar promotional blitz. Yet the next year is expected to see the frail-looking, sharp-featured Jackson in constant motion as he supports "Dangerous" with a series of ambitious videos for the rest of the songs on the album and possibly a tour to rival his mega "Victory" concerts of a few years ago.

"Michael is big show business, and he's always done everything bigger than life, so he doesn't know how to do it any other way," said a music video director who asked not to be named. "Everything is done on the scale of the 'Victory' tour. Everything is huge."

The frenzy surrounding the premiere of "Black or White," which includes appearances by "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin and the ubiquitous Bart Simpson, may have set a new standard for music-video hype. But buried beneath the publicity are reports that the ambitious project ran into production problems stemming largely from Jackson's quest for colossal entertainment.

Cost overruns from the re-shooting of dance sequences swelled the budget above $4 million and led to a rushed, last-minute delivery date. As of Monday night, Propaganda Films was still trimming and editing the final cut of "Black or White." At that time neither Fox, MTV nor Black Entertainment Television had seen the extravaganza they had promised viewers for weeks.

The complications appear to have been connected to Jackson's strive for the theatrical. When Jackson wanted to dance with a female partner in the middle of a busy freeway, one was re-created in Sun Valley, and 50 stunt drivers were hired to assure the couple's safety.

Some exotic dance numbers were refilmed on location after Jackson decided they weren't spectacular enough. An elaborate Red Square set was constructed on a Culver Studios sound stage for a Russian Cossack dance sequence, and 50 horses were used in an American Indian dance number -- apparently the video showstopper -- at Vasquez Rocks near Saugus.

When Jackson wished to turn into a black panther for the video, he passed on the outdated prosthetics that had magically transformed him into a werewolf for "Thriller," choosing instead to go with the latest computer-generated rage in special effects. The painstaking technology, called "morphing" because one object appears to seamlessly metamorphose into another, was used to animate the liquid-metal terminator in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

A record-setting 15 transformations of one person merging into another take place at one point -- a pale woman with fiery red hair melds into a Rastafarian with dreadlocks, who shifts into an Indian woman with a caste mark on her forehead. Each person, meanwhile, sings and dances.

"We've pushed this one step further than what has ever been done before," said Jamie Dixon, the special effects supervisor for Pacific Data Images in Los Angeles. "Michael wanted to put just about everything in the whole universe in this thing."

Jackson remained true to his legendary reputation for secrecy during the "Black or White" filming. When onlookers peered down from a building overhead, a panel was rigged at an angle to maintain complete privacy. At times when he conferred with Landis on the set, an observer said Jackson would lift up a dark cape he wore and the two would huddle behind it. The location was reportedly surrounded by 40-by-40-foot black felt curtains to shut the inner city out -- and Jackson in -- when the star developed the flu.

TV Guide reporter Stephen Galloway described the surreal scene on the night he visited the set in Los Angeles: "This was in downtown, on Skid Row, with a couple junkies asleep on the sidewalk. Then you get down there and it's like going to see the President. A white limousine pulls up and suddenly out of nowhere half a dozen security guards explode toward it. I was behind the car and watched this red sock descend toward the ground and a guy (Jackson) with this huge mask over his face quickly crossed the five feet necessary to get to his trailer."

Galloway was permitted on the set only after lengthy negotiations and several postponements. The day after his visit, Jackson sent Galloway a dozen Baccarat crystal glasses from Tiffany, which Galloway estimated were worth $1,000. Galloway sent the gift back.