One thing I have discovered about fandom over the years is no matter the property or the primary demographic attached to that property, its all one big toxic dumpster fire. Nothing highlighted that fact more for me than when Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights) released his indie take on the ‘80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms five years ago. I was a huge fan of the cartoon growing up. When I heard Chu, who was also a fan of the original, was attempting to adapt the material for a newer generation with Blumhouse Productions behind it, I was more than a little optimistic to say the least.
Personally, I found the update charming, super relevant, and full of the same warmth and heart of the original. The film starred Aubrey Peeples as Jerrica Benton, who after finding fame on the internet as Jem has to deal with the idea of the virtual version versus who she is in real life. The film attempted to deconstruct the young generation’s complex relationship with social media, while also still attempting to stick close to the cartoon. For canon’s sake there’s also a bit about how Jerrica’s father, who was an inventor, left the young girl a treasure trove of technology that would assist her in her quest for pop stardom.
Before it was even released, I was surprised at the amount of vitriol and hate this film got on the internet. I mean, Chu did a very sincere adaption that tried to smartly update the campy property a bit for younger audiences, to make it a bit more accessible. The beats were still there, they were just aimed at the kids of the fans of the original, because this was meant to be their Jem, and I really dug that approach. The music was pretty damn catchy too, which also helps. Well, when you have a film that everyone is complaining about sight unseen, it’s no surprise that when it finally hit theaters it was promptly ignored and bombed.
When Chu was on the press tour for Now You See Me 2, I asked him what that experience was like for him as a director making Jem and about the sequel he planned that never happened. Directors usually tend to change the subject when you try to bring up a previous film during a junket to stay on message, or somehow circle the answer back to the current effort. But Chu really opened up about what this whole thing was like on the other side of the internet. It really hit me hard how much of a fan he was and how this affected him while it was all playing out. He definitely shared more than I expected, and with Jem coming up on five years I dug up the audio and I am posting it here for the first time.
I was a huge fan of Jem and the Holograms. I have to ask, what was your plan for the second film?
Well, I don’t know what I can say or not say, because we definitely have a script.
Oh, you have a script?
And we’ve definitely talked about ways we could possibly do it, because we are proud of the movie and we do want to get to the stuff where the cartoon sort of picks up from. This was always supposed to be a reset origin story to get us into what could be and of course focus on The Misfits and how they come into Jem and the Holograms life and that’s something that is so much fun. The tone shifts, actually. In the first movie it’s really about this girl Jerrica and her sisters and how they create this place and they find their own identity; in this one it’s much more about the attack on them, who The Misfits are, and we would include the stuff from the cartoon and Synergy would evolve into different things.
Again, I don’t want to give too much away in case we ever do make it and you never know with these things. There’s no specific plan to do another one, but I always imagined that, it was always meant in my mind to start with the reset origin and then we are going to go to where the cartoon goes from, and take it from there.
So, you never know. But if it is ever called upon I would love to tell that story.
So, I was a big part of that fandom, and I have to ask some of your thoughts about working with those kinds of properties like Jem and GI Joe and if you would want to do that again?
I would totally do it again. It’s scary.
I mean fandoms, I am one of them, I understand where fans come from and they have every right to have their opinions and things like that. What I am bummed about is, I wish is they would give things a chance too.
I wish they saw Jem and gave it a chance and then had an opinion about it. I am totally fine with that.
I love that kind of culture. To me that’s why I do movies. I mean jumping into Now You See Me, there’s a fandom there and a magic culture, that we both have to protect the secrets of magic, give away some secrets of magic, and that’s a delicate balance and it keeps you on your toes a bit.
Especially with social media, because everyone has a voice, and usually those who complain usually get to speak the loudest. I get it. It’s a part of our job, but I hope fandoms, especially something like Ghostbusters, which I am a huge fan of and I am really excited for, watching fans sort of take that down as well and it’s disappointing, because you see a personality of angry people for no particular reason.
What I’ve learned, even in my own fandom of things I love at that level, is those things will always exist. The original property will always exist, it’s never going away. The great thing about art is people can re-interpret it, and if it works it exists, and if it doesn’t it gets buried and never seen again.
You see that in many different movies, like Doom the movie. You never see people talking about that movie anymore. It like existed and it went away, and it had The Rock or other movies that happened along that way.
There’s no need to take it down before it comes out, give it a chance and see, and then if it doesn’t work no one will hear about it again, and if it does they will. But l love fandom, there’s nothing wrong with it, and it took me a little bit, obviously you get hurt by reading these things, these people you love and adore and have been following on their blogs and all of a sudden they are talking about your movie like you’re an idiot. They haven’t even seen the movie, and clearly they are writing and they haven’t watched it. So that’s hard and disappointing. But I still love it and would never turn away from that for sure.
That was the biggest thing I saw on Twitter was people who obviously haven’t seen the film ripping it apart.
Even reviewers, and you’re like, if they said that, they clearly did not watch the movie. You can’t have a debate on Twitter, it’s a losing game. You have to let it exist and move on with your life and see what happens and let the work speak for itself.
Well Jon, I am still talking about it…. #makethejemsequel