Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Director Jon M. Chu has faced a ton of public scrutiny with his latest film, JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS. The animated series debuted back in 1985 and has attained cult status, having accrued a legion of passionate fans. Chu’s iteration switches the titular heroine’s origins up a bit, telling the fantasy dream of an ordinary girl, Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), who becomes an overnight sensation. After being whisked away to Los Angeles with her sisters Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Kimber (Stefanie Scott) in tow, under the tutelage of Starlight Enterprises founder Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) she finds her confidence as “Jem,” a pink-haired glam pop rocker. Glamour, glitter, fashion and fame ensue – as does excitement and adventure.
At the film’s recent press day, we learned quite a few things both dubious and die-hard fans will want to know in advance. Things that will not spoil your viewing, but rather enhance it.
7. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS is BATMAN BEGINS. Right. I know! That’s a ginormous comparison to make straight out of the gate. However, it’s true. The film is disguised as a glitter-covered prequel; Jerrica is honing her skills, learning to embrace her double life, and Erica Raymond is like her Ra’s Al Ghul. Chu said, “We came down to that we need to tell the story about Jerrica. That was our vehicle in. This is sort of our BATMAN BEGINS to JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS – even Synergy will evolve eventually. I always saw this as a first step of getting us into the world and knowing that things are about to hit the fan.”
6. The girls’ first live performance was sanctioned by international Jem fans. The sequence set at the “Open Air Club,” where the girls debut their truly outrageous style and sound, had the filmmakers reaching out on social media to the fanbase. Braun stated, “Jon called me and asked, ‘Can you get tweets up?’” Scott added, “We sent out a tweet and had people meet us at the venue. We said, ‘You can’t post any pictures.’ People flew in – real Jem fans – from Australia and all over the world for that performance. We had a few hundred people show up and we basically performed a concert from 6pm to 6am. I had the time of my life.” Peeples concurred, “It was the first time we showcased our looks as well to Jem fans. That organic energy was definitely there.”
5. Those YouTube interstitials. Chu utilizes YouTube videos of artists in a unique manner, augmenting Jerrica’s journey. The videos score “action” set pieces between our heroine and Erica as they go toe-to-toe, battling it out, first via email and later during a pursuit around Starlight Enterprises offices’. Chu figured out this cross-cutting approach early on, stating, “This is a generation of makers – of creators. When I was making NEVER SAY NEVER, I remember thinking, Oh that would be a really great way to tell a fictional story if we could. So when JEM came, I thought, This would be the perfect vehicle to utilize that idea. We asked people to send what they thought about Jem as if she were a real person. We asked them to create music to see what we could do. It wasn’t all planned out – it was, Let’s see what we get and how it affects our story. Things that spoke to us. We make the Greek chorus of the internet to re-contextualize to tell our story of this girl going through it.”
4. Hilary Duff loved “Youngblood” so much, she re- recorded it. The connection? She’s repped by producer Scooter Braun’s company. It’ll be on the soundtrack you’ll be pumping in your car (no, seriously) – out on October 23.
3. Scooter Braun had two weeks to come up with all of Jem and The Holograms’ music. The task was daunting but the extremely affable producer with many friends in high places was able to assemble a talented crew of songwriters to come up with your new favorite jams. Chu stated, “We did not give them a genre. We did not give them any sort of template to follow. We just said, ‘Give us what communicates this [emotionally narrative beat] best.’” Braun shared, “Jon expected me to create a miracle. We had to cast, get the girls in the studio and I had to come up with six or seven original songs in two weeks. We took our entire A&R staff from our office and said, ‘No one focus on any other project but JEM. Let’s go out to our writers, go out to friends we don’t represent and pull the best songs for this script.’ We had to find songs that applied to the script first. To the credit of the writers, they really stepped up. A lot of the writers were fans of the show from years back so they were able to contextualize where they wanted [them] to go.”
2. The film’s narrative themes are the same as the animated series’. With any good cover, an artist makes “the song” their own while staying true to the meaning behind the song. This is the best analogy that fits Chu’s film – a film that expands on what series creator Christy Marx crafted. Producer Stephen Davis said, “If you look back from the themes from the 80’s, they still resonate today. It’s still about female empowerment. It’s still about being authentic and true to yourself.” Chu elucidated, “I called Christy Marx after I got Hasbro to say ‘yes’ to make this movie. She said, ‘The one thing I wished I did in the series that I didn’t get to do, that I hope you get to do, is focus on the sisterhood of these girls. I always kept them a little separated.’ That affected us a lot. We built the story around that idea.” Later, he added, “The identity of who she [Jerrica/ Jem] was was a big one for us. Dealing with fame…but even that has changed. We went the opposite way – fame is the illusion.”
1. There’s a KILLER mid-credits scene that will have fans gasping & cheering. You guys, I’m not going to spoil what it’s about just yet – but you should know that it rivals, if not completely surpasses, Marvel’s end credits teases. It’s not hyperbole when I say that it’s worth the price of admission just to see it. Come back later this week to find out more on that soon-to-be infamous mid-credits stinger.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS opens on October 23.