Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Jem and the Holograms

Well, it's a film I've been dreading watching and writing up for Fishing in the Discount Bin for some time.  It's the live-action Jem and the Holograms.  This is in my notes at January 22, 2017.

When I first heard they were doing a live-action movie version of Jem and the Holograms, I was ecstatic.  Of all the cartoons I loved when I was a kid, Jem seemed like one of the longest longshots to get a movie version.  But hey, if Hasbro already had Transformers and G.I. Joe in the works, why not Jem?

And then I saw that first trailer.  As the trailer started up, I started laughing.  First, it was out of joy.  Here we are, in a world where Jem is considered a valuable enough IP to get a live-action movie version.  And as the trailer kept rolling, I kept laughing and laughing, because, as the old song lyric said, if I stopped laughing, I would have started crying.  Because whatever that was, it sure wasn't Jem.  Where was the high adventure as the scaled the Himalayas to film a music video?  Where was the intrigue as they descend on Paris for fashion week?  Where were the constant battles with rival band the Misfits for pop chart supremacy?  Instead we got a quartet of teenage girls in what appeared to be another Disney channel original about a fictitious band.  Hell, two of the girls are actual Disney kids and veterans of such films. 

So I passed on the film when it hit theaters in October of 2015.  And I wasn't the only one.  It opened at #14, which was officially the lowest opening for a major studio film in 2015 and the lowest opening for a film showing on more than 2000 screens ever.  Box office returns were so bad that the studio actually yanked it from theatres after a mere two weeks. 

I did have one friend who managed to get out and see it in its two weeks of release.  Like me, he's a gigantic fan of the cartoons of the 1980s, and Jem is definitely in his top five.  Hell, probably his top three.  He texted me his thoughts going, "Well...if the filmmakers realize that the only way to do a sequel is to do something more in line with the original cartoon, and we have to get through this to get to the sequel, then it's pretty good."  I remembered that as his defense of another live-action movie version of one of his favourite cartoons of the 1980s, Inspector Gadget.  I don't know if he ever saw the straight-to-video Inspector Gadget 2 to see if his theory panned out.  But because that was the best defense he had, I was already a little leery. 

I decided to wait for Netflix, but I must have missed it.  Whenever I did a search on Netflix, I'd get the old "Search for titles related to..." message, which means they had it once, but now it's gone.  But when I was out Christmas shopping, I spotted it in a discount bin for $5 and figured, "What the hell?"  After a busy Christmas, I decided tonight was the time to sit down and watch it. 

We're introduced to Jerrica and Kimber.  Following the death of their father, they've been living with their Aunt Bailey, and her two foster daughters Aja and Shanna.  The four quickly become inseparable sisters and have a propensity for music.  Jerrica, however, is painfully shy and always reluctant to join in their musical shenanigans.  When Jerrica learns that Aunt Bailey is in dire financial straights and could lose the house, Jerrica channels all her angst into her music and writes a song.  When she sits down to film herself singing her song, she overcomes her shyness with a wig, some make-up, and creative lighting to conceal her identity, and takes the stage name "Jem," her father's nickname for her.  Kimber discovers Jerrica's video and posts it on YouTube, because "LOL, millennials, always over-sharing online."  Well, the video soon becomes the most viral video to have ever viraled, and the whole world begins asking, "Who is Jem?" 

One person who has the bright idea to just e-mail Jem and ask is sleazy music producer Erica Raymond, a gender-swapped version of the old Jem villain Eric Raymond.  Erica offers Jerrica a contract for three pop-up concerts and a single, but Jerrica's got one condition:  her sisters are her band, so they get to come too.  Erica agrees, and the girls are off to Hollywood! 

And thus begins the same ol' "rise and fall of a band" film that we've seen in so many musician biopics, that was so well-spoofed in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.  Hell, the live-action Josie and the Pussycats spoofed it better, too. 

I mean, for a classic cartoon that was so insane, how could you create a movie that was so bland and formulaic? 

The band self-destructs when Jerrica asks for an advance on their salary, so she can save Aunt Bailey's house.  Erica agrees, on the condition that Jerrica sign a new, solo contract and dump her sisters.  The girls have a big fight about it, but then, in a scene straight out of the Spice Girls movie, they all take moonlight walks to gather their thoughts and all wind up at the place where it all began -- in this film, that's Jerrica and Kimber's childhood home.  They all talk it out, and make amends. 

Oh, and there's a subplot involving Synergy.  In the cartoon, Synergy was 1980s-style, "computers=magic" AI that used holograms to generate Jem's clothing, and various other holograms-ex-machina.  In this film, Synergy is a cute robot that Jerrica and Kimber's father built.  Returning to Hollywood activates Synergy, and leads the girls on a scavenger hunt throughout Hollywood to find Synergy's missing pieces.  Once Synergy is complete, she plays a holographic recording of Jerrica and Kimber's father, that provides the necessary inspirational message to get the band back together. 

And getting the final piece of Synergy means they get the evidence to oust Erica as the head of Starlight Music, so her son Rio can turn the company back into a force for good.  That's how Rio's in the film. 

And I called it, when I first saw that the trailers were lacking in the Misfits, Jem's rival band and arch-enemy in the cartoon.  The Misfits show up in our post-credits stinger to tease the sequel.  The sequel, that will never be. 

I dunno, man.  When Michael Bay's first Transformers came out, I went into the theatre with the attitude, "OK, this is not my Transformers, this is a reboot for a new generation," and that helped me accept it.  But I can't even use that excuse to protect Jem and the Holograms.  I mean, the cartoon had adventure and intrigue and romance, and the best you can come up with is a bland rendition of a story we've seen so many times before? 

The live-action Jem and the Holograms does to the franchise what midi-chlorians did to the Force in Star Wars:  it just sucks all the magic out of it. 

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