In the 2014 Year in Film issue, I reflected on the internet's anonymous anger towardthose few critics who didn't like The LEGO Movie. 2015's most prominent backlash was of a reverse type: a pervasive anger toward Jem and the Holograms long before it came out, and toward those few critics who didn't get on the hate bandwagon. If a movie can be said to be bullied, then Jem and the Holograms never stood a chance.
It's healthy for adaptations to take surface elements of the original material and refashion them into something almost entirely new; two of the best television reboots of the past 15 years, Battlestar Galactica and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, did just that. On the movie front, the 2014 blockbusters Big Hero 6 (which I liked) and Guardians of the Galaxy (which I did not like) took a lot of liberties with their comic-book source material. In the case of Big Hero 6, the huggable, health-care robo-marshmallow Baymax was originally a battle robot that could change into a dragon (!), while the glorious location of San Fransokyo was created entirely for the movie. For that matter, ask any X-Men fan how faithful the movie version of Wolverine is to the comics.
But when it became apparent that Jem was deviating from the 1980s television cartoon, the internet treated it like a capital crime. The outcry started several months before the film was released: The story and characters were not exactly the same as they were in the series, fans complained, as though the 65 episodes which originally aired from October 1985 to May 1988 were an inviolable canon.
It's impossible to say how Jem and the Holograms would have fared had it been allowed to be taken on its own merits, but if the point of the backlash was to destroy its chances at the box office, then mission accomplished: The film grossed less than $1.5 million over its opening weekend, and to date has made $2.1 million. That's not good, but considering its budget was only $5 million, it's nowhere near as much of a financial disaster as Heaven's Gate, Gigli, Cutthroat Island, or The Adventures of Pluto Nash, to name a few. It was apparent nobody bought tickets to hate-watch the film, and the comments on the few middling-to-positive reviews the film received — including my lengthy Oct. 27 article "Jem and the Holograms Isn't Even Close to Being the Worst Film Ever Made" — tended to boil down to "I've already decidedthis movie is going to suck, and anyone who suggests otherwise just because they actually watched it is dumb and wrong." By comparison, I only saw The LEGO Movie once and consider it the most overpraised film of 2014, but I still saw it one more time than the vast majority of people who told me that Jem and the Holograms was horrible.
I was frequently informed on both social media and in the comments that since I was not a fan of the original Jem series, my positive opinion of the film was invalid, and more than one person wrote that they stopped reading the article altogether when I said I'd never watched the show. Many people misquoted or misinterpreted what I'd written; anonymous commenter "Makin Mischief" described me as "brain dead" after accusing me of having "bitched and moaned about Ant-Man using Vancouver as San Francisco," when in fact I'd praised the film for shooting in San Francisco locations, and my actual beef was about Marvel pushing away original director Edgar Wright. Details, details! But my favorite angry response was a fellow who took issue with my statement that the "odd-numbered curse" surrounding the original Star Trek films is false because Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is a better film than Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (And I stand by my heresy: Wrath of Khan is more crowd-pleasing owing to its hammy acting and all the shit blowing up, but The Search for Spock is more cinematically and emotionally rewarding.) His tweet at me read, "The second you say Star Trek II is better than Star Trek III, you lose 100% of any credibility you have." This raises the question: Did his hilarious typo give me my credibility back? (Trick question! I'm the SF Weekly film critic, so I have no credibility to lose.)
Jem director Jon M. Chu had already received death threats and racial slurs before the film's Oct. 23 release. A fellow with the not-at-all-fake-sounding name "Frank Petersen" unleashed the following on Chu's Facebook page on Oct. 27: "Jon chu ruined the jem and the holograms movie.,he is the worst film maker of all time. That movie was a piece of $hit. I won't ever see it in theaters, on dvd, or when it ever comes to broadcast TV. He has no business making movies. He did a $hitty job on the g.i. Joe movie as well.,worst director of all time!!!! Go back to where you came from!!!!"
Chu was born in Palo Alto, and it would probably be too generous to say that this troll was suggesting that he should relocate from Hollywood back to the Bay Area.
"Petersen," who made it clear he had not and would never see the film under any circumstances, also referred to it as "trash" and "garbage." Rubbish was a recurring theme; when Terri Schwartz from IGN — the same site on which Roth Cornet called Jem a "blasphemous bastardization" back in May, based solely on the film's teaser — gave it a 6.8 out of 10, user candyapple42 commented, "Really a 6.8/10? This garbage movie deserves a 1. It looks atrocious." Folks, take it from someone who actually saw Jem and the Holograms: It isn't perfect, and it's absent from my 10 Best Films of 2015 list, but it's neither atrocious nor trash, nor even garbage.
My best guess about why this particular property struck such a nerve is that it was a wide-release film for and about teenage girls, and thus doesn't cater to the white/adolescent/male power fantasies that the internet still demands. (That the director had an Asian surname likely made it a more tempting target as well.) What's more, this is a time when Hollywood is somewhat recklessly catering to the fanboys who make the most noise — "So, you want more Star Wars movies? You want more superhero movies? Comin' right up!" — and this well-meaning and ultimately harmless picture fulfilled a need for pure undiluted anger. Jem and the Holograms didn't deserve what happened to it, but victims of bullying never do.