“The version of me that they want doesn’t exist.”
The first trailer for Jon M. Chu’s Jem and the Holograms feature has arrived and – big surprise! not at all! – it’s not in any way close to the one dedicated fans wanted to see (when Jerrica herself bemoans the disconnect between her “character” and her true self towards the end of this first look, it’s a parallel that’s a bit too real). Earlier this week, Chu discussed his idea for the film with USA Today, including plenty of mentions of contemporary trappings – like social media, like awkward teens – that will drive the feature. As I suspected just yesterday, Chu’s interest in exploring the dueling identities of Jerrica Benton and her rock star alter ego Jem look to be wholly unconnected with large swathes of the original eighties Jem mythos (and, yes, there is such a thing!), including the apparent exorcism of the hologram machine Synergy, which was originally responsible for turing Jerrica into Jem (and her friends/sisters into The Holograms).
In the new world of Jem, Synergy is gone, the eighties are (really, really) over, and this new feature looks to be more concerned with fitting into the current world than harkening back to its roots. Here’s all you really need to know about this first trailer for Jem and the Holograms: it’s set to a song by One Direction. Take a look:
In this new Jem world, Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) is an awkward teen (not an established businesswoman who, still my favorite thing, runs both a record label and an orphanage) who, despite copious musical talent, is reticent to share her gifts with the world. She’s shy. But her talent can’t be contained, thanks to her nosy sisters/friends who take it upon themselves to post a video of Jerrica singing (in Jem gear) to YouTube (I knew it!) and watch the thing explode. It’s all so contemporary and so topical that it’s unbelievable that Ellen DeGeneres herself (a big proponent of YouTube-mined talent) doesn’t pop up to bring Jerrica/Jem on her show and change her life overnight.
It doesn’t matter, though, because Jerrica doesn’t need Ellen, she just needs a cool YouTube video and the interest of Juliette Lewis as Erica Raymond, the head of big-time record label Starlight Music. (A couple of things: the original Jerrica is the head of Starlight Music, and the name “Erica Raymond” is a nod to original character “Eric Raymond,” who once owned half of Starlight Music with Jerrica, who received it from dead dad, and who then went on to become the animated series’ primary villain.) As Jem and the gals rise to fame, Jerrica begins to lose her way, apparently swayed by the promise of solo stardom, the kind that rips bands – and families! – apart.
It doesn’t look like Jem.
Nostalgia is a wicked thing, and when Hollywood starts remaking things that people loved as kids – like Jem, a show I obviously loved a lot as a tot – it can be hard to swallow. When the Transformers were adapted to the big screen, they became bigger, badder, brawnier, and also friends with Shia LaBeouf. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still love pizza, but now they’re also into pretty icky off-color jokes about having sex with Megan Fox. Alvin and the Chimpunks and the Smurfs are now, well, a little terrifying. But for all the changes and tweaks made to those stories, most of the big stuff has remained the same. You can see why someone would want to adapt that property into something new. The framework exists. The foundation is there.
That’s not the case with Jem and the Holograms, which has now morphed into a teen-centric tale about the YouTube generation that has apparently little interest in holding on to the unique stuff from the original cartoon (is a hologram machine kind of insane? yes, totally, but it’s one of the major elements of the animated series, and it speaks beautifully to issues like wish fulfillment in a fun and frisky way, and also Synergy is totally cool). (There is, of course, a single reference to Synergy here, as a beleaguered Jem, apparently ready to take on the world once and for all, rubs an earring – it doesn’t even look like star! – and says, “Showtime, Synergy.”)
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. That’s a problem when you take on a preexisting 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.
If you’re going to make a Jem movie, make a Jem movie.
Jem and the Holograms will open on October 23.