by Keidra Chaney
I’ve written and talked so much about my longtime obsession with Jem and The Holograms here and elsewhere online that when the news was announced about the plans for a Jem and the Holograms live action movie I had about 30 people message me about it in within a few hours. It was pretty sweet. You all know me so well.
I have to say my reaction about the news was not so much gleeful as it was conflicted. I love Jem. I still love Jem, I have and will watch the series as an adult without shame. I am very protective of this story, with all of its inconsistencies and Mack Truck-wide plot holes. I just derailed band practice the other day explaining how Shana started on drums and left the band for a bit to become a fashion designer and then came back to play bass. Seriously, I can honestly say that me even being in a band has something to do with my latent childhood desire to be in Jem and the Holograms. Well, actually the Misfits. Their songs were better.
Anyway, the news of a live-action movie makes a little concerned. And if you’re a fan of Jem you should absolutely feel this way. Because lemme tell you, if you thought Lord of The Rings was an “unfilmable” piece of pop culture text (and back in the day, that’s what people said!) LOTR ain’t got nothing on Jem. Here’s why.
First thing is, Jem was absolutely a reflection of the time it was produced. I’m not just talking about the New Wave inspired makeup and clothes or the day-glo hair; though in the post-Pink Friday pop music landscape, walking around with bright pink and purple hair doesn’t seem as ridiculous. But the music itself was very much a reflection of the 80’s, Season 1 songs “Like a Dream” and “Only The Beginning” or “Designing Woman” come right out of the 80’s top 40 pop songbook; they are actually (and I say this with all sincerity) wonderfully written little pop songs, but they sound very dated now. Die-hard fans are likely going to expect some version of these songs but since the entire movie is going to be crowdsourced, including songwriters, and creator/head writer Christy Marx will not be involved, we likely won’t hear any of the original songs. I can absolutely assure you these songs are going to sound like Katy Perry songs.
The other thing is that Jem is very much a cartoon. If you’ve rewatched it lately, you’ll note that is has no level of irony. It’s melodramatic, very soapy, and lacking in the kind of cynical self-awareness that is pretty much required of television and film these days. There were no clever asides for adults, this was a show for children through and through, with the kind of simplicity that defined kid’s cartoons at the time. They were trying to get us to get our parents to buy dolls, after all. As a live action movie, Jem is probably going to go the Josie and The Pussycats route, as a self-parody ( Remember that movie? There were some actual fun moments in Josie, even though the movie sucked overall.) Or, which is an even worse idea, going all Chris Nolan, and get gritty and realistic. Jem will go through some kind of breakdown from having to live a double life, maybe Pizzazz will OD or something. Even the whole concept of Jem being a hologram is too ridiculous to carry a film longer than 15 minutes. And that’s OK, but how to translate this into a film that’s ostensibly for grown people is going to be a challenge. How can you maintain the “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame” that fans are nostalgic for, without it coming off really corny. I’m glad it’s not my job to figure out. If anyone could do it, I would trust Christy Marx to, but since she won’t be involved… well, godspeed to y’all.
Finally, this new production is ALL DUDES (so far). The producer, Scooter Braun, runs the company that managers Justin Bieber and Carly Rae “Call me Maybe” Jepsen, so … there’s that. The man selected to direct, Jon Chu, directed G.I. Joe Retaliation, and although yes I did see this film, I do very much regret it. It was pretty awful, like the kind of G.I. Joe fan-fiction you write after you’ve had a couple of drinks. Not that I’ve ever done that. Seriously. I’m not saying that being female should be a requirement to helm a Jem and the Holograms movie, but I think a pop-culture icon that holds so much nostalgia for a lot of former 80’s girls should have a woman’s perspective in helping to shape it. Jem was pretty much the only cartoon of the time period focused on girls. And it was a soap – a pretty unapologetic one. Jerrica/Jem’s duplicitous relationship with Rio (she pretty much encouraged him to cheat on her, with herself!) The intra-band dynamics – Kimber’s little sister complex, Pizzazz and her daddy issues, Stormer’s Johnny Greenwood situation as the quiet MVP of the group, there were a lot of personal relationship dynamics that made the show fun to watch. I’m not saying these guys wouldn’t get that … but I’m totally saying these guys probably won’t get that. I’m not going to go so far to say that Jem was a feminist show, because honestly it was a bit problematic in places when it came to women and relationships (I’ll write about that later), but, it very much was written from a woman’s storytelling perspective.
Apparently many elements of this movie will be crowdsourced, and I have my own issues with that as well, because crowdsourcing + film usually = exploitation of labor. But maybe having fans provide input will being a lot of the elements that made Jem special into this production. My hopes aren’t high, however. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a hot mess. But Iet’s get some folks together and check it out anyway.