The upcoming “Jem and the Holograms” movie turns a truly, truly, truly outrageous 1980s pop icon into a tired YouTube celebrity with a generic plot. (YouTube photo)
Once the “Jem and the Holograms” trailer was released, an entire generation collectively sighed with disgust. A truly, truly, truly outrageous 1980s pop icon was morphed into a tired hybrid of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and a glitter pen.
The more footage that was released, the worse things became. How could a movie meant to provide nostalgia deviate so far from the source material? What made Jem so amazing was she was a workingwoman, who, through a bizarre set of circumstances, became a pop star. The animated show, which ran from 1985-1988, often had Jem using her holographic super computer Synergy to stop everyone from animal poachers to diamond thieves. And yet, despite making a holographic Tupac Shakur, the film that opens Friday, Oct. 23 opted to focus on a girl who makes music under the pseudonym Jem.
They eliminated her being a business owner, lowered the stakes of her “secret identity” and took away all the kick-ass power of a super heroine who outsmarted her enemies. Instead, we get a YouTube celebrity when the days of YouTube celebrities are numbered and the plot of a generic “record deal” TV movie.
The 1980s were a time of whimsy and aspiration. We believed Reaganomics could work, a family could have a pet alien and a jovial old woman could solve murder mysteries. Jem was part of that world. A young woman and her racially diverse adoptive sisters discover their father had a secret. They find a super computer that creates lifelike holograms in a secret lab filled with women’s clothes, instruments and a pink Rolls-Royce. (Did their father live a Caitlyn Jenner double life?)
Obviously, the next logical step for the girls was to create a rock band with a pop-star alter ego. The new film removes all the fun of the original series. Synergy, an intricate piece of AI with an almost magical control over holograms, is reduced to a Roomba that shoots lights. Jem’s adversarial relationship with rival band The Misfits is completely removed from the film. Like the show’s theme song says, The Misfits’ songs were better, and they provided most of the series’ humor and drama. Every hero needs a foil.
Film remakes of TV shows are not un-mined territory. “The Brady Bunch Movie” brought those 1970s characters to the present day. “Josie and the Pussycats” broke new ground for how bad movies could be. “21 Jump Street” proved even the most outlandish 1980s plot could work if you have a sense humor. It’s strange that the producers of “Jem and the Holograms” wouldn’t just retell Jem’s origin story. The plot feels like a regurgitated teen empowerment film.
Isn’t the last thing we should be doing to Millennials is giving them more of a reason to feel entitled? The movie’s plot bears a copyright-infringement-worthy resemblance to the “Rockumentary” episode of “Saved by the Bell.” “We want you, not your band” has been part of every music movie and television show for ages. To add insult to injury, Scooter Braun, the man who discovered Justin Bieber, is a producer, so is it any coincidence Jem was discovered on YouTube?
With so many people who love Jem, there’s so much that could have been done. Juliette Lewis plays Erica Raymond, the record executive and villainess in the movie. But the former rock star would have made a really great Pizzazz, who fronted The Misfits. There’s still a chance for a big reveal, but who will get the reference if fans of the series won’t go see this movie? At this rate, even a 40-year-old Jem with Gwyneth Paltrow would have been more fun. A “Where Are They Now?” film with all your favorite characters a little older and worse for wear would have been amazing given what we’ve learned about fame in the 1980s.
Either way, “Jem and the Holograms” manages to alienate fans by removing all the things that made the animated show great. The genius of Jem was not the music. There were often cheesy songs in short “music videos.” From the over-the-top punk and new-wave fashion to the outlandish plots and bright colors, Jem was so quintessentially 1980s. Updating it robbed it of any chance to satisfy fans of the series. A cinematic retelling of Jem could have become a part of movie history. There is an entire generation of women and gay men who were inspired by the world’s most squeaky-clean pop star. There was a time when girls didn’t have many idols or empowered women to look up to, and this movie spits in the face of one of those icons. Imagine if Transformers were replaced by talking Segways or the ThunderCats were models wearing Angry Cat masks?
It’s unclear who is the demographic of “Jem and the Holograms,” but it seems like an un-produced “Hannah Montana” script with the word Jem written on it. Sadly, ’80s icon Molly Ringwald and Lewis are a great fit for the project. Hell, Ringwald could have even played mousy Jerrica Benton with Synergy giving her a pop-star makeover.
There isn’t anything that can be changed now about “Jem,” but here’s hoping someone will acquire the rights and go in a whole new direction. After all, if we can get three bad “Fantastic Four” movies, Jem should at least get a second shot at stardom.