Small-town girl Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples, TV's Nashville) lives an unexceptional life…until she takes on a secret identity inspired by her music. She becomes Jem: the bold, stunning and absolutely fearless global superstar! But when it seems that she may lose touch with the things that really matter, Jerrica and her band of sisters begin a one-in-a-million journey, discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden. Directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up franchise) and starring Juliette Lewis (TV's Secrets and Lies) and Molly Ringwald (TV's The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Jem and the Holograms is a fun, music-filled, inspirational adventure about finding your own voice.
'Jem and the Holograms' arrives on home video with the dubious distinction of being one of the most disappointing box office releases of 2015. In fact, 'Jem's box office was so poor that Universal pulled the film from theaters after just two weeks of exhibition. The only thing keeping it from also being a huge financial loss for the studio was the fact that the movie was shot for an extremely economical $5 million.
So with that kind of history behind it, the movie must be pretty god-awful, right? No, actually it's not...which is not to say it's a good film, either, but one that certainly didn't deserve the fate it obtained. It's competently made by Director Jon Chu (who also helmed 2013's G.I. Joe: Retaliation and this summer's 'Now You See Me 2'), has an appealing young cast, and actually contains some genuine moments of inspiration. It may be completely forgettable after the end credits roll, but I didn't feel like I'd wasted my time watching it.
The movie, of course, is based on the 1980's syndicated cartoon series 'Jem', which was about the adventures of an all-girl rock band. Produced by Hasbro, the series was designed to sell a lot of toys, but it also became one of the most highly watched animated series of its day. For good or for ill, I've never actually seen an episode of 'Jem', which may or may not bias my opinion of this new film – as I went into it with a totally open mind, and one not expecting the characters to act and behave in certain ways (something fans of the cartoon will probably expect when watching 'Jem and the Holograms').
The movie stars Aubrey Peeples (from TV's 'Nashville') in the lead role of Jerrica Benton, who – along with younger sister Kimber (Stephanie Scott) – has found herself living with her aunt (played by Molly Ringwald) and her aunt's two foster children, Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko). All the girls are musically talented, particularly Jerrica – who is shy about showing off her ability to others. However, Kimber gets her hands on a video recording of her older sister singing and uploads it to the Internet, where 'Jem' (the name Jerrica uses in the video – one her late father used to call her) goes viral and becomes a sensation. Soon, Hollywood – in the form of record producer Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) – comes calling, wanting to turn 'Jem' into an international music sensation.
But the most interesting aspect of 'Jem and the Holograms' doesn't have much to do with Jerrica's overnight stardom at all. It has to do with a little robot named 'Synergy' that her father (played by Barnaby Carpenter) left behind for her and a final message to his daughter. It's in those scenes that the movie is at its best, while almost every scene involving the girls in the band is full of clichés and expected twists, not the least of which is turning Erica Raymond into an unscrupulous villain.
But I can't say I had an awful time with this movie, and chances are most of you won't either if you go into it with the right frame of mind. It's a film that's clearly geared toward a young female audience (so I'm definitely not the intended demo), but one that parents can certainly be comfortable sharing with their children. There's a positive message here about not being afraid to be different, and even if a good half of the storyline here doesn't work very well, the movie deserves credit for not turning into yet another cynical studio effort aimed solely to promote a toy brand...like another franchise I can think of – yes, I'm talking to you Michael Bay.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Jem and the Holograms' makes its debut on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD come housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie (iTunes and UltraViolet). A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop the case. Both the Blu-ray and DVD are front-loaded with trailers for Minions, Barbie: Spy Squad, Great Scarier Reef, When Marnie Was There, and 'The Secret Lives of Pets'.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Jem and the Holograms' was shot primarily on Red Epic digital cameras, although the movie also makes a lot of use of home video cameras like the GoPro and video submitted over the Internet. It is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
For the most part, the image here is crisp, with a lot of detail to it. Black levels are pretty solid throughout – and that's a good thing, since a lot of the movie's scenes take place either in darkened clubs or at night. There is frequent use, however, of Internet footage and videos, so those obviously aren't as great looking in HD as the image in the rest of the film. One thing I did note is that every time a flashbulb goes off in the movie (and that happens a lot here), it kind of comes off as 'blocky' – covering half of the screen, rather than having a more 'natural' look to the flash. Whether that's a fault of the transfer or the Red Epic cameras the movie was shot on is anyone's guess, but it seems more like a source problem than a transfer one. Otherwise, the movie looks pretty good, with no noticeable issues with banding, aliasing, or the like.
The primary audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and let's be clear – when the musical scenes happen, the audio sounds fantastic – not only making use of the surrounds, but adding a lot of LFE 'oomph' that I don't usually hear applied to musical numbers on Blu-ray. My biggest problem here – and it's one that may or may not bother the average listener – is that the mix of those musical numbers is so much louder than the rest of the film, I had to take points off my audio score. Most may be reaching for the remote to turn down the audio during these numbers, then reaching for it again to hear the other scenes, as the dialogue is almost exclusively up-front.
With the above in mind, the audio is otherwise free of any problems, with no dropouts or other glitches to worry about.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless English track, the Blu-ray also includes a Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, as well as a 2.0 English Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Far from a great movie, but certainly not as bad as you've heard, 'Jem and the Holograms' is probably about as good as a movie based on an 80's cartoon like this one could have been. It's a little long, a little corny, and a little too clichéd in spots, but there is also an earnestness and positivity to it that is lacking in a lot of Hollywood releases today. This one may not be worthy of a spot in one's collection, but it's certainly worth at least one viewing. Rent it.