Like many cartoons from the 1980s, the series Jem was based on a rather strange setup. The episodes followed a young woman named Jerrica Benton, who, with the help of a computer named Synergy and a pair of special earings, can use holograms to transform herself into her celebrity identity: the rock star Jem. This is not what fans should expect to see in this weekend’s live-action Jem and the Holograms movie, however, as Jerrica merely disguises herself with makeup and wigs instead of advanced technology. So why was this major change made? According to director Jon Chu, it’s because the film got too messy when it came to explaining what’s going on.
Earlier this week I had the chance to talk with the filmmaker for a phone interview, and I took the opportunity to ask him why it was that the film moved away from the idea of holographic disguises. He explained that there were earlier drafts of the movie that did carry over this sci-fi element from the cartoon series, but that it would up getting cut out as a means of making the movie clearer. Chu explained,
We had versions of them being transformed by holograms, but it got complicated, because if you really think about the cartoon, it is confusing. Is she turning into a totally different person? So people don’t recognize her – do you have to have a different actress? You know what I’m saying? All the sisters, the people in the cartoons know that they’re the sisters, but they don’t know that it’s Jerrica, so there’s a lot you have to explain live action that a cartoon can get away with.
Having to spend time dealing in exposition and clarification was ultimately found to not only have a damaging effect on the structure of the movie, but also steer it away from the core message that Jon Chu wanted to get across:
Every time we got bogged down, ‘Oh, we’ve got to stuff all this stuff in,’ it made the movie less focused about what we wanted to do, which is to tell this story about this girl who will get these powers and get brought into this crazy adventure.
There is a silver lining for those of you who are disappointed by Jem and the Holograms’ lack of holographic disguises: just because they’re not in this movie doesn’t mean that they’re not being thought of to use in the future. Jon Chu has some big ideas for where a sequel could go, and part of that could mean including more cartoonish elements. Said the director,
At least get people on the ride and then we can figure out how the holograms will play in… We’re in the beginning of it all.
Jem and the Holograms is in theaters this Friday, October 23rd.