Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Time again to try to fix an adaptation.  Previous attempts to figure out what went wrong and how to fix the problems include the Dungeons & Dragons movie, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, and the 1998 American Godzilla movie.  This time out, the 2015 Jem and the Holograms film.

The biggest problem the 2015 Jem had was obvious – it wasn’t the cartoon.  Not that it wasn’t animated; the movie only shared names with with cartoon, going in its own direction, one that the potential audience wasn’t interested in.  The obvious solution is to build a time machine, go back to 1986, and prevent the cartoon from airing.  Of course, doing that means there’s no reason to adapt the series as a movie, thus the film is never made, so there’s no reason to go back in time.  Depending on the theory of temporal mechanics, this could destroy the universe from paradox; create two timelines, one with the cartoon, the other without; or have some grumpy man in a blue police call box step in grumbling how amateurs shouldn’t mess with the space-time continuum.

Given the complexities of time travel, the obvious solution isn’t workable.  Given that the audience was expecting something like the cartoon, what could have been done?  Simplest, and doable barring problems with rights, is to just adapt the first five episodes of the series as the movie, with the music and technology updated to reflect what’s possible now.  The episodes, “The Beginning”, “Disaster” (aka “Setbacks”), “Kimber’s Rebellion”, “Frame Up”, and “Battle of the Bands”, are one story, each but the last ending with a cliffhanger and set up the premise well.  Along with Jerrica/Jem, the Holograms, and the Misfits, there’s a corrupt corporate executive in Eric Raymond as the villain.

“The Beginning” introduces everyone, sets up the relationships, shows the need that the Starlight Foundation has, brings in the love interests, and puts Jerrica in the position of having to fight to keep control of her father’s company.  Even Synergy is brought in before the first commercial break, to introduce Jem.  The difficulty may lie in the updates.  Holographic technology is better understood now, but miniaturization will still let Synergy use Jem’s earrings as projectors.  The fashions are dated, but with the likes of Lady Gaga performing today, outrageous outfits shouldn’t be a problem.  The music needs a careful hand; Jem and the Holograms should have a different sound from the Misfits.  In the cartoon, the Misfits had a harsher tone in their music, with Jem being softer for the most part, as the song “Click/Clash” demonstrates.  Given that the sequel hook had Kesha as Pizzazz, the difference between the two bands would happen.

The last of the first five, “Battle of the Bands”, provides a natural climax, as Jem and the Holograms face off against the Misfits in a battle of the bands that will determine who owns Starlight Music and will live in Starlight Mansion, with the added threat of the life of one of the Starlight Girls in the balance, thanks to Eric.  A race against time for the final act should pump up the audience, with the added benefit that the Holograms succeed thanks to Jerrica’s thinking and actions.

Casting the above is easy – keep the same cast, just let the actors playing Jem and the Holograms get a little older.  They had chemistry with each other and deserve a proper shot.  Ke$ha as Pizzazz had promise, and Juliette Lewis as Erica Raymond nice flipped the villain’s gender without losing any of the sliminess of the corrupt exec.

That isn’t to say that the 2015 Jem movie is bad.  Unlike the other movies featured in the Adaptation Fix-it Shop, Jem‘s biggest sin was not being what people wanted.  The movie did get a number of items correct.  The writers understood that while the Misfits were rivals, Eric Raymond was the villain.  He used the Misfits for his own ends.  The movie also remembered Eric’s thug, Zipper, who played a supporting role in the first five episodes of the cartoon.  The fan videos that appeared deserves a look just for how the creative crew managed to fit them in.  The Jem movie deserved better than a two-week run in theatres.  It may have been better served by airing on a family programming channel instead, where the expectations of the audience who will be paying for the fare would be low to non-existent.  As it stands, the movie made only half its $5 million budget, a rounding error for Universal in a year that included Jurassic World.

The 2015 Jem and the Holograms wasn’t a bad movie.  It was just not what people wanted, and fixing that happens not on screen, but in marketing.  Sometimes, misreading the audience leads to missteps.

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