Remember those Filipino prisoners who became YouTube sensations for their staged version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," complete with a cross-dressing inmate playing MJ's terrified girlfriend? After delighting the world with their forced renditions of numbers from Sister Act and "YMCA," the dancers are back...and they've apparently joined forces with Sony Pictures to help promote the 2010 DVD release of the MJ documentary This Is It.
On paper, the idea of merging the pop cultural firepower of Michael Jackson's posthumous hit documentary with that one prison in the Philippines where inmates are forced to learn cool dances sounds like an awesome idea, if a little bizarre. And for once, the army of orange-pantsed convicts have been filmed with panache – in crisp high def, with multiple cameras and swooping crane shots. But as you watch choreographer Travis Payne and dancers Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid lead 1500 or so of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in a selection of numbers from Jackson's planned This Is It concert tour, the whole thing starts to feel a little icky.
Ok, the dancing does look pretty cool. For instance, where MJ had to create a CG army of dancers behind him for the "They Don't Care About Us" number in This Is It, Payne (dancing the MJ part) has an army of real dancers behind him. And they're all wearing This Is It t-shirts and brand new Converse sneakers, so at least they got something out of the deal. But listen to the lyrics; this particular edit conveniently excises the parts about being victimized by the police and raped of pride – you know, the passage with lyrics like "Set me free" and being accused of things you didn't do – and skips ahead to the righteous Martin Luther King part. And then the prisoners form a giant peace sign.
Take a look for yourself in the clip below, posted to YouTube by Sony Pictures DVD. (This Is It hits DVD shelves this week.)