Jem and the Holograms – The One Redeeming Thing

Jem and the Holograms is a movie based on a cartoon. It was supposed to open in cinemas two days ago. It didn’t. The reason: Abysmal reviews. But there’s one redeeming thing about it – The movie’s director

It’s a rare occurrence for me to not enjoy a movie. Usually, something makes a movie enjoyable. Sometimes, it’s the part one actor plays. Sometimes, it’s the soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s the great camera work. Or any of the other elements that make up a movie. Fact is, I love the medium film. I love how directors and writers play with imagery, imply things with visual or audio cues and all the things that make movies beautiful. Movies inspire. Movies awe. I love movies.

I don’t love Jem and the Holograms. In fact, this was one of the very few movies I had trouble finishing. During the two hours of this movie, I groaned audibly quite often. And then, I said the words I haven’t said all year or even longer when watching a movie: «I am not having a good time watching this.»

Jem and the Holograms

The poster to Jem and the Holograms looks pretty interesting. Too bad the movie doesn’t deliver

The thing is this, I will now rant about the movie a bit and then I will go into what impressed me about this movie, the one redeeming thing. And it has nothing to do with the movie itself per se.

Plot: Meh

Jem and the Holograms is based on a cartoon from the 1980s titled simply Jem. It was about a girl named Jerrica Benton who, for reasons lost to time, was a great singer but could not perform under her real name so she got herself a computer named Synergy that cast a hologram over her and so she could perform while foiling many a plan by rival band The Misfits. It was 1980s schlock at its finest.

Needless to say, this sort of thing wouldn’t work with audiences of today, despite the fact that the relatively obscure cartoon series has managed to garner a small cult following. And with the relative success and moderate awesomeness of the G.I. Joe and Transformers movies, studio and toymaker Hasbro decided that they needed something aimed at girls.

The modern Jerrica Benton (Audrey Peeples) is a girl from northern-ish California. She’s terminally shy and keeps her singing talent under close wraps. Her mother is out of the picture, her father is dead, so she and her sister live with their aunt and her two adoptive daughters in a house that faces foreclosure. So when Jem’s sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) uploads a video of the shy teen’s singing to YouTube she goes immediately viral, is hailed as the world’s greatest inspiration to men, women, animals, trees and plush toys everywhere. Within a few days, Jem has a record deal with Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), moves into a big mansion and has concerts booked at the hottest venue ever in Los Angeles. But along the way, Jerrica and her sisters must solve the mystery of her late father’s inventions: 51n3rgy or Synergy, a little robot looking thing that will not serve any purpose during the entire movie.

You can pretty much recount the rest of the movie from here: Turns out Erica is evil, but she is also incompetent to the extent where a bunch of upstart teenagers can beat her at her own game. Synergy is there to make Jerrica believe in herself and the power of music and in the end, Jerrica kisses the guy.

Cringe-Worthy Production

Director and producer Jon M. Chu of G.I. Joe – Retaliation and Justin Bieber’s Believe fame had five million dollars to make this film and considering that Hollywood sometimes has days where nobody even moves a finger for that amount of money, it’s impressive to see that there’s still movies made on that budget. This is not the one good thing about the movie. That I will cover in a later paragraph.

Considering the price tag of the film, it’s a somewhat respectable effort. It’s hard to tell this low-budget movie apart from a high-budget film that has made all the wrong choices when speaking about the creative process.

Jem and the Holograms

The make-up on Jem and her band members looks quite good. But we never really get to see it.

Every few minutes, there are social media videos from sites like tumblr or YouTube are on screen and every now and then, the movie switches to the view the camera that Kimber holds, creating a kind of Found Footage film. Even when the movie is not in KimberVision, the camera keeps shaking ever so slightly. It’s ghastly. It makes no sense and it’s painfully obvious after a while that this appears to be a plot to stretch the movie to its almost unbearable two hours of runtime. That thin plot up there? Two hours!

Every song number by Jem has to be in full length of course. This wouldn’t be so bad either, if it wasn’t the most shallow, unexciting and glib pop songs you’ve ever heard. You know radio music? The few pop songs that the radio plays all day long on heavy rotation? The songs in this movie are even more shallow. They’re too shallow for radio. Just let that sink in for a minute.

Worsening the bad music is the fact that the concert sequences are obviously shot as if the music was something completely different. Something that has teeth. While the music sounds like something you’d hear in a Starbucks for people who are too boring even for Starbucks, the concerts are shot as if they’re an avant-garde Lady Gaga-esque spectacle.

All the wrong creative choices.

The One Good Thing

I’m not the only one not liking this film. Reviews on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes call it silly, nonsensical, sadistically boring and bland. They’re not wrong.

Cinemagoers didn’t like the film either. It was the worst opening weekend ever by a major studio sending a movie to over 2000 screens, making Jem and the Holograms a rare legendary box office bomb. It made just 1.2 million US Dollars during its first days and was removed from cinemas two weeks after it started its theatrical run.

In Switzerland, the movie was set to open on December 24th, 2015, but that will never happen. You might end up finding the movie in the bargain bin or on Netflix. It’s not worth seeing.

Then there’s Jon M. Chu, director and producer of the movie. He has apparently tried to get this film made for ten years and he speaks of it with warmth and love. The day after the movie started its run in October, he was to speak in front of other film makers at the Film Independent Forum. He opens his speech with the following words:

I get fans sending me hate mail, I get death threats, I get racist remarks — it’s a really fun business. Reviewers have been harsh, to say it lightly.

Yet he goes on to say some really impressive things such as

From the bottom of my heart and wounded soul, I am so lucky. We all are. Because we have the best job in the world: we are storytellers

And

What I find is, that I am the same person I was 36 hours ago. I am the same person that grew up in a family that loved to tell stories. I’m still here. And Jem and the Holograms is the same movie I’m proud of making 36 hours ago. I’m still excited for people to discover it, somehow, some way. Ultimately we are not defined by our results; we are defined by the purpose of our pursuits. It’s about the whole journey—the collection of stories that define what you stand for. We are storytellers, in every sense of the word. We’re here because we love it.

This I respect. Jon M. Chu took it like a champ. Obviously hurt, he managed to hold his head high and gained respect from pretty much everyone listening. He stands by his failure. And that’s awesome.

You can watch the entire speech here. Despite the awful film, it’s worth listening to what the director has to say.

About Dom

Possessing nigh-encyclopaedic knowledge when it comes to comic books and movies, Dom is one of the co-founders of the Uncanny Book-Club. He also enjoys movies, and going to the cinema.

2 Comments

  1. I agree that the movie was terrible. But I do not at all agree with your take on the original source material.
    How is Transformers or GI Joe inherently better than Jem and the Holograms? If I’m not mistaken, some of the same people worked on all three.
    I’ll tell you why you think Jem and the Holograms is “schlock” while the other two are not. Because people love to crap on anything that caters to the interests of women and girls. It’s a part of the latent misogyny all throughout our society. It’s why women write books about their experiences and it gets dismissed as “chicklit”. It’s also why men do the same and it is called “literature”. It’s why you’re referring to a show that was watched by virtually every little girl growing up in the 80s as “obscure”.
    And seriously… How can you actually say that the concept of Jem and the Holograms wouldn’t work with a modern audience after the smash success of the Hannah Montana franchise (which effectively stole its concept from Jem)?

    • Hi Kathryn

      Thank you very much for your comment. Allow me to refute some of the things that you said. Because, the thing is this: You might be lacking the context in which I write here.

      How is Transformers or GI Joe inherently better than Jem and the Holograms?

      You misunderstand. GI Joe is not better than Jem. GI Joe, from the perspective of a Swiss audience (seeing as we’re a Swiss magazine writing for a predominantly Swiss audience), GI Joe simply is while Jem is not. GI Joe aired on German television between 1985 and 1986 under the title Action Force – Die Neuen Helden (Action Force – The New Heroes). Not all episodes were aired as German TV – and most of Switzerland watched German TV due to Switzerland itself only having one publicly available channel at the time (and to this day, cable is a bit of an odd idea in the heads of the Swiss) – but Jem and the Holograms never aired. I have researched this for your comment and I couldn’t find any indication that before the movie was announced and then subsequently pulled from Swiss release lists, the German speaking world was not aware that there was such a thing as Jem and the Holograms.

      I’ll tell you why you think Jem and the Holograms is “schlock” while the other two are not. Because people love to crap on anything that caters to the interests of women and girls. It’s a part of the latent misogyny all throughout our society. It’s why women write books about their experiences and it gets dismissed as “chicklit”. It’s also why men do the same and it is called “literature”. It’s why you’re referring to a show that was watched by virtually every little girl growing up in the 80s as “obscure”.

      I hope the part about “obscure” has been unobscured for you in my previous paragraph. It has nothing to do with cultural significance and/or target audience, but more with general awareness in the sense of “We’ve heard of it”.

      As for literature vs. chicklit. I see how that is a thing. In fact, most big chain bookstores in Switzerland such as Ex Libris are targeted to be attractive to women and children under the age of ten. Thalia also caters predominantly to women (and to women who are into esoteric new age stuff, for some strange reason). In the German speaking world, reading is – at least as far as marketing is concerned – a thing that women do.

      Schlock? I would call GI Joe schlock as well. It’s just that the article here is not about GI Joe. It’s about Jem and the Holograms. Surely you’d be upset if I wrote about GI Joe at length in a review of Jem and the Holograms. As a reader, I would be. If you wouldn’t call both series schlock, you’d be doing them a disservice. Not because it’s inherently bad, but because it revels in its cheesiness and its kitsch. And at that, it’s fantastic. So is Jem, for the record. I mean, women with wild hair on motorbikes shaped like guitars racing about an office that is on the 100th floor of a skyscraper? How is that not schlockily awesome?

      How can you actually say that the concept of Jem and the Holograms wouldn’t work with a modern audience after the smash success of the Hannah Montana franchise (which effectively stole its concept from Jem)?

      Simple, by looking at the numbers and current taste in music. Currently, big hair bands are not very in. So a faithful adaptation of Jem would automatically fail. That said, there are some notable example where 80s music makes a quite good soundtrack (see Guardians of the Galaxy), but there’s a difference between soundtrack and the music being an integral part of the movie at hand. Currently, people like the sort of indie-poppy-rocky sort of stuff that you hear in the movie. So from a marketing perspective, it makes sense to update the Holograms’ musical style. But as the movie, having done just that, proves… it doesn’t work either.

      I didn’t even think of Hannah Montana, to be honest. But now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right. I would wager, though, that people here would be seeing it the other way around, solely based on the fact that before the movie, nobody here has had any exposure to Jem. So in the eyes of the Swiss, Jem is a ripoff of Hannah Montana. As for Hannah Montana in Switzerland: She was somewhat popular here, but not incredibly so. She hit the mainstream, somewhat, but never gained traction the way she did in the States and elsewhere. Miley Cyrus is, over here, famous because she runs around doing outrageous things and sticks out her tongue at people and cameras and not really for her music. Her best chart positioning over here is #5 with Wrecking Ball. Before that, she made the Top 20 at #19 with We Can’t Stop and everything else was lower than #35.

      I hope this helped clear up some of your concerns. If that’s not the case, feel free to reply to this comment or write me a lengthy mail using our handy contact form at http://www.uncanny.ch/contact/

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