How Jem and the Holograms Isn’t Totally Dismissing the Cartoon

By  · Published on July 14th, 2015

Universal Pictures

One lesson I think we all learned this year: do not mess with Jem and the Holograms fans, especially one named Kate Erbland. When the trailer dropped, she did not mince words when it came to the adaptation of her beloved cartoon. Here’s just a taste of some of Erbland’s unparalleled fury:

“What this film looks like is just another movie about talented teens trying out something new. It could be anything, it doesn’t need to be Jem,” she wrote. “That’s a problem when you take on a pre existing property and when you toss out some of its core DNA: your hardcore fans are going to be pissed (cough) and your new fans aren’t going to have any interest in seeing the original stuff said new offering sprung from. If you want a movie about teen rockers, make a movie about teen rockers (hell, Chu directed two Step Up films, which are excellent and totally from an original idea), don’t cannibalize a beloved franchise in order to fit contemporary whims.”

Even as someone who’s never seen a second of the cartoon and has zero familiarity with its mythology, it’s impossible to disagree with Kate there. Take one glimpse at the images or plot of Jem and the Holograms and it becomes apparent this isn’t a particularly faithful adaptation. Based on the trailer, if a few nips and tucks were made and they changed the title, it’s likely nobody would cry foul and accuse the film of ripping off Jem and the Holograms.

Chu’s movie being a good movie is more important than making a good adaptation, but he, like most of the best adaptations, could’ve found that balance. Then again, nobody has seen the movie – except for one person at Comic Con who actually said it’s quite good – so maybe he did find that balance. At this time, that’s not what the fans think.

If anyone obviously wanted to capture the vibe of the show, it’s costume designer Soyon An (Step Up All In). At a panel focused on costume designing, An discussed her approach to capturing the look of the original characters. “Every time I presented them with something, I started very much leaning towards the original characters,” she said. “Then Jon would say, ‘I like that, but I’d like it to be more modern.’ It was very much going through it and realizing what his vision was, and then we finally got in sync. I was really adamant about the color palettes and patterns. You’ll see in the film I kept little accents of it, but it’s still very modern. Even today, in fashion, when you dress in ’80s and ’90s clothing, it’s kind of really cool – and you’ll see hints of that in the film. I just wanted to make sure we had that, even with the Misfits, and certain elements of all those character designs. When you’re watching it, you’ll know who each of the characters are. We love Jem, so that’s why we were doing a live-action film but it wasn’t totally dismissing the 80s cartoon.”

For Kate Erbland’s sake, hopefully they really aren’t completely disregarding the show, because I’m not sure she could physically handle a butchered adaptation of Jem and the Holograms. Chu’s approach just seems plain odd, for a variety reasons, one of which being: Who are they making this movie for? The fans? And, again, speaking as someone who’s never seen the show and enjoys Chu’s work, that trailer certainly did nothing for me.

Who knows, though? Maybe the trailer is hiding the goods. Maybe this adaptation has more of Jem and the Hologram’s DNA than fans expect. Then again, wouldn’t they try to at least convey that in the marketing? There’s still plenty of time to do that before the movie opens in theaters, so, like with any movie, let’s hope for the best and not completely write it off before it can speak for itself on the big screen.

Jem and the Holograms opens in theaters October 23rd.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.