Published on May 15th, 2015 | by Lauren McPhee0
Jem And The Holograms Trailer Breakdown
The Jem and the Holograms trailer has just dropped. A reboot of the 1980s glamour and glitter, fashion and fame television show, the movie – due out this year – has been meeting controversy ever since it was announced alongside a youtube casting call. Staring Aubrey Peeples as Jerrica/Jem and Juliette Lewis as Erica Raymond, this adaptation reimagines Jerrica and her sisters as high school girls rocketed to superstardom on the back of a viral video. Having watched the trailer, I would compare it to Josie and the Pussycats, only without the fun and the ironic commercialism. Others have compared it to the Bratz movie, which I haven’t seen, but I did watch the trailer and I can at least safely say that the Jem trailer is not that bad. But, is it any good? You can watch the trailer for yourself.
So, the first question that you might need to answer when remaking a 1980s cartoon for a contemporary teen audience (if that’s the audience you’re going for), is how do you update the style and themes and make them relevant to today? Of course, there is no one way to do this, but Blumhouse Productions and director Jon. M. Chu have chosen to go down the social/new media pathway. Surely, teens today can appreciate and relate to viral videos, youtube, vlogging and internet fame. New technologies also pose interesting questions around the use of holograms and identity as we integrate more and more within a post-humanist world. The only problem is…this movie doesn’t have holograms. That “and the Holograms” part of the movie title is totally irrelevant and as the trailer shows, the film might as well just be called Jem.
Beginning the trailer with a voice over in what could be understood as a video blog, Jerrica Benton introduces herself to the audience as a teenager “living a most unexceptional life”; this, as we know, is the most horrifying of situations in a world where sensation rules and social media allows users to constantly publicise their existence as a form of entertainment. Unusually and contradictorily, perhaps, for a teenager in this day and age, Jerrica Benton proclaims “I don’t like being on camera!” It is, thus, by refusing to allow herself to be filmed that Jerrica is depriving the world of the entertainment that is her. Secretly recorded singing by her sister, Kimber, Jerrica becomes an online star and as a result, is offered a recording contract with the world’s biggest record company. Along with her band, including Kimber and step-sisters, Aja and Shana, the girls travel from Riverdale their small town to the big city to perform in a life-changing, lesson-teaching “big concert”.
I really find it hard not to make comparisons to Josie and the Pussycats and I will try to restrain myself, but the films are too similar in my mind to the extent that it feels like “Jem and the Holograms is the new Josie and the Pussycats!” or else it’s just going to fail as a weak impersonator. Unfortunately, I don’t see this film succeeding as the first one. Josie worked because it was over the top and played on the conceit of rampant capitalism and commercialism in the music industry. So far, Jem’s conceit of social media as a site of individualist success and entertainment lacks critique and also doesn’t go far enough. It’s barely a conceit at all. What is stressed, rather, is a kind of comment on the constructedness of celebrity identity that reflects on artists like Lady Gaga and Sia who perform behind the guise of a persona. This could be explored in really interesting ways encompassing Judith Butler’s theories of performative gender, something that I always thought Jem was excellently suited to. However, I doubt that’s what’s happening.
Jem appears to be an entirely commercial production designed by Starlight Enterprises, run by Erica Raymond and I imagine, played spectacularly, by Juliette Lewis. Unfortunately, I fully expect her to fall into the evil older woman trope. As such, Juliette Lewis IS the new Fiona of Megarecords, only without the defence of satire. As such, Jerrica and the band are shown how to dress, how to act and how to perform femininity in the presence of Rio as the heterosexual love interest. The conflict of the movie appears, then, to be one of identity: which is the true identity, Jerrica or Jem? With the concept of performative gendered identity out the window in the face of a true and inherent core identity, the moral of the story starts to veer dangerously towards the fulfilment of individualism through capitalism. With Erica’s “The whole world wants to know who you are”, I hear “Doll, I created you” and the ending of this film becomes a dully predictable “be your[true]self”.
Along with being yourself is staying true to your friends, another similarity to Josie and the Pussycats. Shunted into the background while Jem presumably hogs the spotlight, the Holograms will be in the way of Jem’s solo career. Can you hear “Friends first and a band second?” here because I can. Is this scene not familiar to anybody? I bet this is where she has her epiphany leading into the third act.
While the predictability of the story is disappointing, it is not as disappointing as all the missed opportunities and the erasure of essential themes and characters. What this trailer demonstrates is that the film is a stripped down version of a cartoon that might as well be Hannah Montana. The only thing that has been retained is the identity conflict. Removed are questions of technology applied to the body, the issues of AI technologies and weaponisation, and celebrity rivalry and entitlement. There is no Synergy, no Jem-Star earings, and no Misfits. Maybe in the sequel that probably won’t happen.
It’s not all terrible though. For what it is, Jem and the Holograms might pass as an acceptable movie. It might even be enjoyable. Unfortunately, this trailer is highly disappointing and uninspired. It doesn’t give me much hope. As of right now, I am at least hopeful for the costumes and character design which are shiny and colourful enough to grab my attention, as well as the love and friendship between the sisters. Of course, I won’t get any Kimber/Stormer, but I am looking forward to seeing Kimber, Aja and Shana being cool young women, if they aren’t relegated too much to the background. And then there’s the music. I can’t say I’m a massive pop fan but I do know all the songs from the Josie soundtrack and make no apologies for loving it. While not being super original, the main song featured in the trailer is already annoyingly catchy and I will have to hear more of it soon because singing the same eight bars can get kind of boring and repetitive.
So, thus ends my rundown of this trailer for Jem and the Holograms. I know I am biased. I’m a big fan of the original series, and Josie, and the new Jem and the Holograms comic from IDW which is killing it and actually has holograms in it! And Kimber/Stormer! I was really excited when they announced this film, and like with most treasured franchises, that excitement has been chipped away with each new announcement. But this is only the first trailer. They could come back and surprise us. This film could have hidden depths! Wow, I really hope so… I really wouldn’t mind another Josie movie.