OpinionTelevision & Film

The New JEM Trailer: Why I’m Mad

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1985 was a special time. I was in second grade… or my second first grade… whatever, let’s not get bogged down with semantics. I had newly moved from Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast of Texas, to Wimberley, which is nestled right in the heart of Texas by Austin.

In the move, I had lost a lot; my friends, my beloved grandparents, everything I held familiar, but most importantly, I lost access to my friend Greg’s vast collection of Star Wars action figures and playsets.

I was stuck alone in the wilderness with my He-Man collection. I was a young impressionable boy, lonely, looking for a guiding light.

Then she came along. Her name was Jem, and she was truly, TRULY outrageous.

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I was first introduced to Jem in KB Toys, where there was a large display of these beautiful new dolls with multicolored hair and garish makeup in the Barbie isle. I had long been subverting the gender binary by secretly sneaking over to the Barbie aisle and coveting the beautiful but generic looks of Barbie and her other pink clad friends for as long as I can remember.

There was something different about Jem. Sure, she wore pink, too. But she looked as though someone had attacked her face with a lipstick and her sister Kimber was dressed in what I can only assume Melissa Ethridge spent most of the 80s in and had bright pink hair. Even more shocking… there were VILLAIN DOLLS. All Barbie ever had were friends. How pedestrian. How boring. Everyone knew, heck even I knew in second first grade, that you were nobody unless you had an Arch-Nemesis.

Jem spoke to me, and I knew immediately that my parents would never buy her for me. My father had “lost” my Brooke Shields doll in the move, and I was sure he would never allow his son a doll that was essentially a gay pride float marketed to little girls.

I never even asked. I just slunk back to the boy aisle and drowned my sorrows in Robotech action figures.

Later, at school, I heard some girls talking about Jem. How amazing she was, how dynamic. Most importantly, how great her cartoon was. Jem had her own show, and it came on in the Weekday Afternoon Action Block!! Unfortunately, it played during the 30 minutes right after I got home from school when I was supposed to be doing my homework. Occasionally I would get home in time, and I would be able to bluff my way into being able to watch Jem and Holograms. But more often than not, I missed it.

Of the 65 episodes of the show’s run, I got to watch about 20, but I loved every one that I saw. Like the doll, Jem and the Holograms was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was an animated series specifically geared towards girls that was full of action and adventure. Jem (or her alter ego Jerrica Benton) and her friends were always uncovering plots and exposing villains. The Misfits, the titular villains of the show, were always causing trouble, if not straight up trying to murder Jem and the other “good girls”. This show was just as exciting as G.I. Joe or He-Man or Thundercats.

And the thing that put it over the top for me, was Synergy. The living computer that not only allowed Jerrica to transform into Jem via portable hologram technology, but could sometimes be hacked and turned into a time machine. Or disguise herself to teach the Holograms a lesson. Synergy took Jem from a standard action adventure show and turned it into a genre show.

Jem was weekday afternoon science fiction for girls.

Years later, as an adult, I finally got to watch the entire run of Jem and the Holograms thanks to Netflix streaming. And if it’s still up there I would suggest you go right now and watch it. The show, through adult eyes is… wow… just spectacular. Things that seemed like fun adventures when I was a kid; Jem having to drive a car in the Indy 500 while Pizzazz, the leader of The Misfits, tried to kill her with another race car, for example shoot into orbit with you’re a grown up realizing that this is a kid’s show.

Through all of Jem and Kimber and Aja and Shana’s adventures, there was a science fiction bent. Magic and mystery and technology all smooshed together in a candy colored package.

Which brings us to the Jem and Holograms movie, the trailer for which has dropped this week.

What can I say on a family friendly site like SciFi4me.com to adequately express my disappointment in the trailer?

FRAK YOU JON M. CHU!! FRAK YOU IN THE FACE FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE!!

 

((ahem))

 

Sorry.

 

When I heard that Jon M. Chu was behind the movie, I was genuinely excited. Jon M. Chu directed two Step it Up movies! Jon M. Chu directed a G.I Joe movie!! Jon M. Chu made Justin Beiber seem like not such a monstrous — !!!  (ahem) …  If anyone could take all the glamor and glitter, fashion and fame and turn out a great spectacle of an 80s movie, it would be Jon M Chu.

Then the rumors started.

  • The film makers had not consulted the woman who created the Jem cartoon, Christy Marx.
  • The social media component of the film, where fans of the original show could submit art and costume designs to be used in the film, was only executed after principal photography had been completed.
  • Principal photography had been completed before the film had even been announced!!

True or not (the Christy Marx thing is at least true, the others have been disputed by the filmmakers) it was enough to give me pause.

Then plot points started to come out.

  • Jerrica Benton would no longer be a grown woman who heads a major record label. OK, going for the youth audience. I get that.
  • Eric Raymond, the evil music executive who wanted to steal Jerrica’s company would now be Erica Raymond, and would be played by Juliette Lewis. Well, gender blind casting is OK. And Juliette Lewis is basically a punk rock goddess.
  • There would be no Starlight Foundation. …um… wasn’t the Starlight Foundation, the foster home for girls that Jerrica ran, a major plot point of the show?
  • There would be no Misfits.

Well… ah… I just… I think… okay. No, that is unacceptable. The Misfits, Pizzazz, Stormer, Roxy and later Jetta. The Misfits were the VILLAINS OF THE SHOW and in some cases, the most entertaining characters. When I heard there would be no Misfits in the show, I knew something was wrong. But I still had hope, as long as we got a raucous, science fiction adventure film, the kind of film I KNOW Jon M Chu could deliver, I would be happy.

 

Then. The trailer:

 

There are just so many things wrong. I honestly don’t even know where to start.

  • Jerrica and her sister Kimber are living with her aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) and Bailey’s foster daughters Aja and Shana. So Shana and Aja have been downgraded from adopted sisters to foster cousins.
  • Jerrica is a shy girl instead of a strong and confident woman.
  • Erica Raymond, after discovering Jerrica on YouTube (shades of Justin Bieber, anyone?) CREATES the Jem persona as a marketing stunt! WHAT!!! Jerrica, strong and confident, created Jem to protect Synergy FROM Eric Raymond!!
  • Oh, and there is no Synergy. THERE IS NO SCI FI ANGLE AT ALL!!

Imagine if you will, that you heard a new Star Wars movie was being made. Imagine that you heard J.J. Abrams was directing. Then imagine when the trailer came out it was the story of a young man who had to learn how hard moisture farming was. If you had been a fan of Star Wars your whole life, you’d be a little upset. You might even want to start a riot. You may have thought that a childhood property that you loved was put in the hands of a director that should have knocked it out of the part, and they totally botched it.

Jon M Chu is helming a film based on a sci-fi property with all of the sci-fi stripped out. And it sucks. All the stuff that made Jem and the Holograms fun and groundbreaking is gone. The adventure, the excitement, the strong, capable female characters, and the magic and mystery. And they have been replaced by a dramatic retelling of the Josie and the Pussycats movie (which was a cartoon adaptation done 100% correctly).

At this point, I’m trying to decide what to do. After all, this is only one trailer. Perhaps the second trailer will go a long way towards fixing the problems we all see.

Or maybe this will all end in tears.

 

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Dustin Adair

Dustin Adair grew up telling odd stories to concerned family members in Wimberley, Texas. He went on to study Screenwriting and Costume Design at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. He currently tells odd stories to concerned friends in Kansas City, Missouri.

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