Hi. I’m the one who liked Jem and the Holograms.
Okay, I’m probably not alone. But considering how hard the film tanked this weekend, it certainly feels that way. And hey, look. I get why a lot of old-school Jem fans didn’t go to this live-action reboot. We saw that first trailer and were annoyed at the played down pink hair, the fashion that wasn’t truly outrageous, and the downgrade of Jerrica/Jem from having-it-all business woman/rock star to foster teen/Youtube sensation. And where the hell were The Misfits, right?
I get why a lot of you didn’t go this weekend. If I weren’t asked to cover it, I wouldn’t have gone. But then I’d have missed out. Because while Jem and the Holograms tweaked a lot of the superficial aspects of the show, there was still a vibrant beating heart of emotion that sang the praises of female friendship, the transformative power of fashion and the importance of being yourself. As I said in my review, it wasn’t the Jem I wanted, but it was one that made sense for girls today. And you know what, it made this #oldz laugh and tear up and dance in her seat.
But I’m not here to tell you to give Jem and the Holograms a chance. I’m here to tell you why we shouldn’t be behaving like its record-breaking bellyflop at the box office is worth celebrating. It’s bad news for girls and for “girly” properties.
Did you know Jem and the Holograms cost just $5 million to make? And that price included scads of costume changes, wigs, swanky locations, and a rolling robo-buddy who helps Jerrica in her quest to uncover her father’s final words to her. $5 million is 30 times less than the budget for Transformers ($150) and 35 less than that of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($175 mil), two other live-action features spun from a popular ’80s cartoon/toy commercials. And though both of those movies are considered bad, neither’s score was as low with critics as Jem and the Holograms.
Maybe it’s because as brainless as the big budget ones are, they still offer scads of action and spectacle. But the fact that Jem and the Holograms’s budget was so comically small makes me wonder if it’s that we don’t value girls’ nostalgia as highly as boys’. That’s not to say there aren’t men/boys who like Jem. After all, it was a couple of men who love Jem who made this movie. Here’s a pic of producer Jason Blum that he shared on Twitter this past weekend:
Why a $5 million budget? Yeah, Jem and the Holograms is a Blumhouse production, and Blum’s company is known for keeping budget’s tiny and tight. But you’d think the maverick moviemaker would be able to pitch the production to Universal or Paramount, which had seen successfully putting out his various horror offerings. But maybe it seemed too big a risk?
Speaking about the film’s failure, Blum said, “At this point, we could make money doing big-budget movies, but we opt not to. When you have less risk, you have more fun. You can take risks. It’s much easier to take risks when there’s less money on the line. Not all of our movies work, but we take shots and we’re able to do that because we really stick to low budgets.” But the comment that felt more telling was his advice to filmmakers: “Raise whatever you can and shoot whatever you can for whatever amount.”
Director Jon M. Chu went from helming the $130 million budgeted G.I. Joe: Retaliation to this. I suspect the teeny budget for his teen flick was not a challenge he relished. You don’t go from a successful big budget movie to a $5 mil movie for shits and giggles. You do it because you care about its story. Having seen Jem and the Holograms, I am convinced Chu cared. To his credit, it does not look like a $5 million budget movie. It looks like at least $15 mil. And it sets up for a sequel that looks like it would be the campier, more outrageous version old school fans were craving, and with The Misfits to boot.
Maybe Jem and the Holograms was a sort of “proof of concept” to show there is an audience out there hungry for stories about young women who are talented, passionate, and unapologetically girly. I struggle to think of a recent live-action movie that offered girls such an adventure. Blum and Chu should be proud of that they’ve made one. Instead, they are fielding death threats. Yeah. Jem fans have been sending Chu death threats. Which is stupid and shameful, and something I thought was relegated for the dregs of the cult of Nolan.
I get being annoyed when your favorite childhood things are brought back and refashioned. But it’s not always a careless cashgrab. Even Jem and the Holograms hater Rebecca admits:
Jem may be bad, but it's not Michelangelo telling April he gives her a turtle-boner bad.— Rebecca Pahle (@RebeccaPahle) October 25, 2015
Jem and the Holograms was made for girls. I saw it in a theater filled with them, and they squealed and awed, laughed and cheered. They loved that movie, and watching it with them was a joy and time portal that took me back to my own youth.
I’m flat-out pissed off how Jem fans have handled this reboot’s release. The intense and immediate fan backlash following the first trailer seems to have killed the movie’s momentum, seemingly spooking producers into slashing the marketing effort. Shrieking “you’ve ruined my childhood” at filmmakers is a thing we as a culture do now with no remorse and often no consequence. Well, congrats. Our shrieks killed this movie dead.
Now it can forever be used as an example to refuse female-fronted properties like She-Ra: Princess of Power, just like Elektra and Catwoman are trotted out to explain why we can’t have superheroine movies. So stop acting like its failure is our win. It just means that sexist Hollywood execs can point to it as proof that women don’t go to nostalgia movies, so why bother making them. And that means less movies for girls to go giddy over.