Nostalgia Bomb: First Jem and the Holograms Trailer Disappoints

May 19, 2015

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The first trailer for Jon Chu’s live-action Jem and the Holograms update hit the internet last week. The response? Practically frigid. Is this going to be a bad movie? Maybe not. But is this movie Jem? Right now, it’s not looking like it.

Hasbro’s original Jem and the Holograms is a late ‘80s cartoon about four sisters using a wildly overpowered artificial intelligence to become a philanthropic global glam rock sensation. Jerrica Benton, daughter of Starlight Music founder Emmet Benton, uses her dad’s invention Synergy to help her sister Kimber and their foster sisters Aja and Shana take on the persona of Jem and the Holograms. Together, they fight crime (okay, the Misfits) and do everything they can to protect the foster girls taken in by the Bentons’ Starlight Foundation.

It’s a downright outlandish show, even given Hasbro’s library of sentient alien cars. But that’s what makes Jem Jem. The wild fashions, the sometimes eye-searing color palette, and the catchy tunes come together to turn every episode from an extended after school special into a campy joyride. Jerrica’s struggle with her identity is not necessarily central to the show; the other band members explore their own trials and tribulations, and we even see a vulnerable side of iconic villains the Misfits.

But in the first trailer for Jon Chu’s adaptation, out this fall, we see none of this. Instead, Erica Raymond heads up Starlight Music, and she plucks the girls from obscurity and thrusts the Jem and the Holograms personas on Jerrica and her sisters without seeming to give them much of a say. In the show, they become Jem and the Holograms to save the foster home they grew up in. Here, Erica makes them Jem and the Holograms to make them famous.

Erica Raymond teaching Jem, err, Jerrica how to Jem.

Erica Raymond teaching Jem, err, Jerrica how to Jem.

The trailer is washed out, with little of the eye-popping, out of this world glamour of the original Jem to be found. We’re left with dim shots cut through with scenes of Jerrica rightfully distraught over what this forced persona has done to her relationship with her family and friends. When we see Jerrica in a dress that plays homage to one of Jem’s more notable looks, Jerrica is unhappy and alone. It reads more like a slightly older version of Hannah Montana, which wouldn’t be bad on its own, but at its core the trailer bears little resemblance to Jem and the Holograms.

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There is none of the charm or camp, and perhaps most disappointingly, as William Shatner himself pointed out on twitter, not even a whiff of the Misfits even in passing. Aside from names and passing resemblances, this could easily be any young coming of age story with a “corrupted by fame” twist.

Of course, you could say, why does it matter? This is an update — does it have to be a direct adaptation? How true to the story is sufficiently true? And at point do I stop having any real ground to criticize a franchise whose target demographics I am so wildly removed from? Adults sticking their nose where they shouldn’t belong in entertainment is a legitimate concern, though another kettle of fish entirely (hello, My Little Pony) from what has happened with this movie to date. No, this trailer builds on months and months of disconcerting news, from the initial all-male production team to the shocking revelation that franchise creator and scriptwriter Christy Marx wouldn’t be involved.

No, I am not the target demo for anything remotely resembling Jem these days. But Jem and the Holograms is a show near and dear to my heart, and the kind of show for young girls that we rarely see produced these days. Jem, Kimber, Aja and Shana are all young professional women who pursue music both because they love it and because it helps them do good in the world. They choose to form the band. They choose their look and style.

Jem and the Holograms could literally do anything, thanks to Synergy, but time and again it’s demonstrated that without the bonds they shared before stumbling on Emmet Benton’s machine, Starlight Records and Starlight House would both fall apart. This movie seems to be about girls trying to stay close after hitting the bigtime; it might be a fun and heartwarming film, but that trope is only a tiny part of what makes Jem and the Holograms such a valuable franchise for young girls.

Including the absent Starlight House foster girls, almost a dozen women and girls are missing from this trailer, the rough and tumble Misfits chief among them. Pizzazz and her crew were the aggressive, in your face counterpart to Jem and the Holograms’ sweet ballads and upbeat pop hits — they know they’re talented and aren’t apologetic about wanting you to know it too. It seems like Juliette Lewis’ nefarious Erica Raymond may be a stand in for both the Misfits and their manager Eric, and that’s a shame; even a glimpse of a snide remark from someone who looks like Pizzazz would be welcome.

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What troubles me most, though, is the utter vacuum left by the absence of Synergy. Jem has always felt like a glam pop magical girl series to me, and Synergy gave the show something of a sci-fi bent often absent from franchises marketed towards girls. A touch to an earring and a listless “showtime, Synergy” is an insufficient homage, and it almost feels as if Chu and team think girls may just not be interested in “that type” of movie. It’s unsettling to think that they’ve taken a franchise turned into a cult hit largely by young girls and women and sucked all its essential bits and pieces out of it to make a more marketable “girl movie.”

Most underwhelming homage ever.

Most underwhelming homage ever.

Nobody’s going to reboot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the heartfelt tale of four young amateur turtle-themed acrobats who get called up to the big time in Barnum and Bailey, and strengthen their bonds of friendship along the way. Transformers is not going to get remade as the tale of a young boy rediscovering his deceased father’s love for him while working on his vintage car collection.

So why have the most Jem bits of Jem and the Holograms been stripped away in this film? If Chu sees “modernizing” the franchise as the central struggle, there are certainly better ways. IDW Publishing has a fantastic comic out now by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell, with an updated aesthetic and cast of characters that feels like a natural extension of the original show. I cannot recommend it enough, especially for fans looking to soothe the disappointment of this trailer; their love for Jem is clear in every word and panel.

None of these fond, nostalgic feelings are present in this trailer so far. Chu says he’s a fan, but so far I can’t tell — what I know is that he and Hasbro are hoping to cash in on the nostalgia invoked by the name of the film. But from the reaction so far, it seems like they may be as disappointed as Jem fans were last week.

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