“Jem and the Holograms” suffers from an identity crisis


Josh Santiago, A&E Editor

1980’s icon “Jem and the Holograms” projected onto theaters on Oct. 23, but creative liberties and a massive thematic overhaul has left many hardcore fans skeptical.

In 1985, Hasbro was determined to create an icon that could stand with the likes of “Transformers” and the “Thundercats.” What they created was a feminist icon, as “Jem” and her sci-fi band and overly futuristic disguises fought against comically corrupt music labels and evil rival bands.  Future technology “Synergy” allowed her to physically change her appearance through advanced holograms, which she used as a front to become the most successful pop star of 80s cartoons. The franchise gained a cult following, as spin off comics, dolls and actual music by the fictional band grew in popularity. Following suit with “Transformers” and “GI JOE” it was inevitable that Jem would receive the live action treatment as well.

In the reboot, Jem has dropped the sci-fi motif and instead draws inspiration from many modern music tropes: leading a literal double life, letting fame get to her head and losing her own sense of self. Holograms were exchanged for cleverly designed makeup and wigs. To highlight Jem’s rise to stardom, the studio hired Jon Chu, the director behind “Never Say Never.” And mentioned in nearly every trailer thus far is the fact that the movie is being produced by “the studio that brought you ‘Pitch Perfect.’” With people like these holding the reigns on the pop princess, it becomes very clear what they’re trying to accomplish for Jem’s theatrical debut.

In a way, it’s very creative: taking something hilariously incredulous and reforming it to better fit today’s world. But fans of the original are less than pleased with the modernized reboot. The official “Jem and the Holograms” trailer has over 13,000 dislikes on YouTube, as opposed to only 8,000 likes. Fans particularly aren’t a fan of the fact that their cultural icon has been turned into “basically Hannah Montana.”

But with plenty of advertising, the nostalgia factor, and a director with a notorious track record, it’s hard not to assume that the 2015 reboot won’t be a hit. Catchy music and a tried-but-true premise surely couldn’t fail, right?

Against all odds, “Jem and The Holograms” managed to fail. The film barely managed to get $1.3 million  at the box office on opening weekend, despite being screened at over 2,000 theatres. It became one of the worst performing films of all time, joining the likes of “The Oogieloves” and “Delgo”. Critics panned the movie, citing low budget and cliched premise as its faults. But perhaps the biggest mistake “Jem” made was the overall lack of faithfulness to the original show.

Perhaps this is a sign for Hollywood reboots everywhere: no matter how many creative liberties they must take, the movie needs to stay grounded with its original premise. Execution is key for adaptations, finding a balance between innovation and faithfulness is one challenge “Jem” could not overcome.

The value of magic has changed over the years. Now, the concept of princesses and literal spellcasting are farfetched. Getting a new generation interested in space music and holographic clothing is going to be hard without taking some creative liberties. Changing how “Jem and the Holograms” function is only to retain its core values as a whole. What “Jem” tries accomplish overall is to become a safe role model that can sell merchandise and help kids to believe in themselves. And unfortunately, she failed this generation. But her faults today do not represent the entirety of “Jem.” She still thrives through her 1985 cartoon. And perhaps, she should have never left her decade in the first place.