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Jem and the Holograms: A Hollow Gem

Movie Review: Jem and the Holograms

We’ve seen Hasbro-Marvel Productions-Sunbow Productions creations like Transformers and G.I. Joe being remade by Hollywood, resulting in mixed to positive reception from the series’ ardent fans and movie critics. Sadly, the remake of Jem and the Holograms, another of these collaborations, is barely surviving at the box office, and it’s no mystery why.

Directed by Step Up’s and G.I. Joe: Retaliation’s Jon M. Chu, the musical fantasy now has an “Internet age” twist, perhaps an attempt to entice the younger generation who didn’t grow up with the original 80s cartoon. That told the adventures of Jerrica Benton as her pop-star alter-ego, Jem, and her band The Holograms. The action-sci-fi series, which ran for 3 seasons and often pitted Jem against rival bands like The Misfits, spawned a comic series, action figure line, and now, the live-action movie.

Fans, however, are far from cheering. They are aggrieved about the show’s lack of decent semblance to the original and the absence of sci-fi elements, perhaps because they refused to involve the original series creator, Christy Marx, in writing it.

Instead of being the boss of a record company Starlight Music, left by her late father, Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) is now a bashful singer-songwriter. One night, Jerrica, in the guise of “Jem”, records herself singing an original song using her camera. After her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) uploads the video without Jerrica’s knowledge on YouTube, it instantly garners millions of views, with news outlets vying for an exclusive with the mysterious Jem. Jerrica, Kimber, and the 2 foster sisters, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau), they live with after their father died. They eventually land a contract with, can you believe it, Starlight Records. Sly manager Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) broke the deal, and they moved to Los Angeles to pursue their undeserved musical career.

Why undeserved? Firstly, none of the sisters were even in on the act in the viral video. Secondly, according to The Guardian, YouTube is so oversaturated with new content every day, with 300 hours of video uploaded each minute. To have that 1 video of Jem crowd out everything else, immediately skyrocketing her to the status of a global phenomenon, isn’t realistic when she’s neither prodigiously talented nor as starkly different and attention-grabbing as Psy. While we admit Peeples sounded decent in that video, she’s not the next Adele or Taylor Swift by a very long shot.

Apart from similar costumes and makeup from the original series, the essence of the cartoon is blatantly absent in the movie. Synergy is now a less smart and slightly dog-like machine, somewhat like an Aibo, a major step down from its original incarnation as the A.I. of a sophisticated and powerful machine that gave Jerrica the ability to project a hologram (explaining The Holograms) over herself, to become Jem. In the film, Synergy makes the sisters embark on a scavenger hunt for its missing parts to uncover a message left behind by their father. Cliché’s last message? You bet.

References from the cartoon were popped into the film without proper context, adding confusion for those who’ve never watched the Jem series. A scene during the mid-credits included Erica Raymond recruiting a rival band, The Misfits, to destroy the band she’d trained and invested in after Jerrica breached her contract with Starlight Records. Perhaps this is a preview to a potential sequel, although half the viewers had actually left the cinema by then.

The film’s only saving grace was its original pop music, which is rather catchy and has moderately meaningful lyrics, like “Youngblood” (Who’s got the eye of the tiger? If you’re a fighter, if you’ve got soul, who wants to walk on the wire).

It tries to convey a positive message about how being your true self is always the best and how the corporate world is evil as if we haven’t already heard that refrain enough in Hannah MontanaJosie & the Pussycats, and recent movies like Breaking Through, which was also about a young aspiring performer finding instant fame and losing her identity on YouTube.

Instead of taking the lazy way out and trying to set this up as a remake to milk nostalgia money from fans, whom they’ve now incensed, Hollywood might be better off trying to position it as an original. If you can look past the obvious similarities with Hannah Montana and Breaking Through, that is.

The resulting backlash and lack of interest were clear enough that Universal Pictures withdrew the film from cinemas after just 2 weeks of screenings.

That makes that possible sequel about as real as a hologram…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


Release Date: 26 November 2015

Runtime: 118 minutes

Language: English

Rating: PG

Genre: Musical Fantasy

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Juliette Lewis, Ryan Guzman

(Photos courtesy of United International Pictures Singapore)

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