Admittedly, much of what I’ve heard about the new Jem & the Holograms live-action movie is hearsay, so it may very well be that not all or even none of the rumours are true. According to Wikipedia, (which is never wrong, note the sarcasm) “In a hyper-linked social media age, an orphaned teenage girl, Jerrica Benton becomes an online recording sensation, and she and her sisters embark on a music-driven scavenger hunt – one that sends them on an adventure across Los Angeles – in an attempt to unlock a final message left by her father.” So far, the fandom has been underwhelmed at the very best, claiming that the only thing the move shares with the source material are names and the title. From what I’ve seen, they’re right. I recognise a whole lot of names (and even a genderflip: Eric Raymond, the sleazy record executive and manager of the Misfits is now Erica Raymond) but nothing about this is the Jem I remember.
The original plot of the animated series was this: Jerrica Benton, together with her sister Kimber and their two friends Aja and Shana, run Starlight House, an orphanage founded by her father, the owner of Starlight Records. Jerrica seems to have been trained in music but has no desire to get into the industry beyond ownership of the company her father left her in his will, perfectly content to simply run Starlight House and live a normal life with her boyfriend, Rio. The problem is that the record label is the only source of income, something which Eric Raymond — as the one basically trying to wrest control of it from Jerrica — wants to close the orphanage for the sake of greater profits. The way he intends to do this is by promoting the band he manages, the Misfits. Fortunately for Starlight House, Jerrica discovers that her father left her more than a struggling orphanage and record label, in the form of a “base” (for lack of a better word) hidden in a dilapidated drive-in theatre. There, our heroines discover all the equipment they need to start their own band (and inexplicably 80s modern fashion) and more importantly, the supercomputer, Synergy, which transforms them via holographic projections into their superhero, I mean, rock star personae, Jem & the Holograms.
So we have a number of problems right out of the starting gate. Jerrica, Kimber, Aja, and Shana are apparently orphans at the Starlight House rather than its caretakers, so out goes Jerrica’s primary motivation. Now, it is entirely possible that Erica Raymond intends to shut the orphanage down and might be strong-arming the girls into forming a band, but it’s not the same thing. A group of altruistic women fighting to save the home of the young girls under their care is entirely different than fighting to save the only home they have and possibly the only thing keeping them together, and while the latter could make a good story in the right hands, it isn’t Jem.
Second is the fact that they’re all teenagers rather than young women. Where this gets wrong beyond it just not being Jem is in the fact that Rio seems not to have been similarly aged down, as he is their road manager and engineer. That sets off alarm bells in my head, personally.
But perhaps the most glaring difference and what makes this decidedly not a true Jem story is the lack of the presence of everyone’s favourite “bad-girl” band, the Misfits. It might very well be the producers intend on a sequel where the Misfits are introduced, but there are a number of problems with that expectation. The first one is the most obvious: “What makes you think a sequel is ever going to be greenlit after this movie flops?” But the second is that the Misfits are such an integral part of the Jem world that the equivalent would be taking Darth Vader out of Star Wars. No Darth Vader, no Star Wars.
The Misfits are more than simply a rival to the Holograms. They aren’t villains, (arguably, their manager Eric is the real villain of the series) they’re merely self-centred, seeking fame, fortune, or even just recognition and praise of their skills. Though they generally don’t care who they hurt along their path to stardom, what the Misfits seem to want most is just the freedom to play their music. They’re not so much an opposite to the more altruistic Holograms as they are their foil, a competitor in a race to save Starlight House. (The Misfits don’t even care if they have their own record label; Starlight Records only matters to them as a way to keep performing) And just as the Holograms themselves have some moments of selfishness, likewise, the Misfits aren’t entirely selfish. Pizazz, Roxy, and Stormer add depth to the series in a way that wouldn’t be possible without them. And this movie proves that point.
I don’t think that this attempt at Jem & the Holograms is necessarily bad. To return to an earlier point, in the right hands, it could be a good movie…if it was not merely a Jem license. My theory is that this script had been written well before the license, and that the title was simply slapped on top of it with the necessary name changes. However, doing so means that instead of a decent — if perhaps unremarkable — movie, you now have a poor reinterpretation of a world which lacks what made the original stand out. It’s truly outrageous…and not in the good way.