Call me surprised when I opened up Twitter last night after watching a documentary to find most of my timeline to be extremely upset about the Jem and the Holograms global trailer that just dropped. I was only vaguely aware that Jem and the Holograms were making a comeback (mostly in the form of a comic book) so the idea that they were leaping onto the big screen as part of the wave of 80s nostalgia reboots/remakes seemed fairly interesting to me. However, it seemed like most people, even before I had a chance to watch said trailer, were deeply unhappy with the direction that the movie seems to be taking at this juncture.
Granted, trailers are always edited together in a masterful way to give you a sense of the plot but also to get the hype machine cranked up well before a film’s release and might not be accurate to what the movie is really, truly about. However, upon my own viewing, it seems like there’s so much off-key here that I have to agree with the legions of upset on social media.
It is sad because honestly, if this wasn’t called a Jem and the Holograms movie, I would sit down and watch this. It’s no accident in that, especially since I saw this immediately after watching the documentary Beyond Clueless. I’m a teen movie-holic and find myself passionately interested in the genre. This movie, for all of its sentimentality and earnestness, seems like something I’d enjoy. That being said, a Jem and the Holograms movie it is not.
Even if many of us (like myself) watched this cartoon when we were too young to absorb most of the plot (though this has been fixed lately with re-watches), much of the aesthetic and overarching story of the show stuck with us. Jem is and forever remains a superhero story, one that wasn’t popular with primarily boys first. She used magic to change into an alter-ego, she battled opposition forces and she stuck together with her gang of other cool musical superhero band-mates. How is this not similar to the Avengers? So when I watched the trailer and saw that the movie was realistic, earnest and contained no magic whatsoever, I felt cheated. If Hollywood can create an Earth that supports men who are god-like, enhanced by mysterious chemicals or have supernatural abilities, why not one where women can use their earrings to change into rival musical superstars? It is this fundamental change to the nature of Jem that feels the most lacking.
This movie, if the trailer is any indication, is made by someone who doesn’t grasp the fabric of the world, and all of the things woven into it. It honestly feels like a script driven by someone who had no proximity to the show at all. Jem’s story is fundamentally about her struggles with stardom, her friendship with the Holograms and her clashes with the Misfits. (Where are the Misfits too, I might ask.) Pasting the name over a typical story of a young girl who gathers her family around her and then is pushed to go solo is a well-worn trope. It doesn’t jibe with what Jem was really about: sticking together with your friends. Radically altering that story so you can shrink-wrap the franchise on top of it creates a soulless automaton that resembles nothing about the show we all loved.
That’s the thing here, that I think is bugging so many of us: it’s not about the show we enjoyed. Nostalgia seems to be sacred in creative properties if we’re trying to re-create stories from comic books that have origins in the 50s-60s, but girly cartoons from the 80s? Eh, let’s market that to girls who are teens now, who may have never seen the show. At the risk of sounding crotchety, it shows a lack of understanding of who the audience for this movie actually is, as women aged 25 and up are only allowed to be into pre-determined genres like romantic comedies and not the stuff we were into when we were kids. What if we’re parents who want to take our daughters to see things we enjoyed at their age? What if we’re older nerd ladies who want to see a faithful adaptation of stuff we have fond memories of? There’s such a lack of consideration, still, in the nerd sphere for the things we enjoyed as kids, despite the wave of 80s and 90s media making a comeback. (I feel that this ties neatly into why we also don’t have a lot of adult cartoon shows geared more towards women, but that’s another topic for another time.) The ability to enjoy retro is still firmly in the grip of a pretty male nerd culture.
Jem and the Holograms should not be this realistic, this earnest and solely developed for a younger audience. You can’t slap neon face-paint on and call it good. It feels like it was written by John Green with all of the annoying mawkishness that come with it and a lack of experience with what girls or women actually want, just what we’re supposed to enjoy. We’re a group continually passed over and seeing the things we loved writ accurately seems impossible.
Give me the glamour and glitter, fashion and fame. Keep it truly outrageous.