Rhino // 1985 // 645 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // July 28th, 2004
Jem is excitement!
One of the most bizarre animated series ever to attain cult status, Jem is a surprisingly good example of the genre. It is so much better than the cover illustration suggests. While the cover art implies glitz and glamour, the actual series consists of intelligent, exciting cartoons that both adults and children could love.
Jem has had a long hiatus from television and video, but now Rhino has issued the complete first and second seasons on DVD.
Jerrica Benton, a young woman mourning the death of her father, inherits Starlight Music. Well, half of it, that is. It turns out that the devious Eric Raymond controls the other half and aims to gain complete control by any means necessary.
Raymond decides to focus all his energy on his latest discovery: an all-girl punk rock band named The Misfits, led by the obnoxious Pizzazz. Jerrica decides to strike out on her own and continue running the Starlight Foundation, an orphanage created by her father.
By accident, she makes a startling discovery: Synergy, a dazzling computer created by her father in secret. Synergy has the ability to create holographic imagery. With the aid of magic earrings, Jerrica decides to give Eric Raymond a little competition by transforming herself into Jem, a charismatic and talented but enigmatic singer.
Things never go as smoothly for Jerrica as they do for her alter ego, however. The Misfits are always up to no good. Jem also mistakenly kisses Rio, Jerrica's boyfriend, which means that she is now her own competition for his heart. Then there is the dilemma of whether to tell Rio and the world that she and Jem are one and the same. What's a girl to do?
I only have vague memories of Jem on television. When it premiered in 1985, I remember the promos but little else. I was never much for "new" animation as a young boy; I preferred keeping company with Popeye, the Looney Tunes, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, and the Flintstones instead. When I received this box set for review, I was less than enthusiastic. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is a pretty good cartoon within.
A popular trend in the 1980s was creating an animated cartoon around a marketing idea. Indeed, Jem was born under those conditions when Hasbro approached Sunbow Productions armed with pictures of prototype dolls. Staff writer Christy Marx was given the assignment of crafting an entire series based on those pictures. What Marx did with the opportunity was nothing short of incredible. She managed to create a three-dimensional, lively program out of practically nothing. Jem is far better than most of the loosely made pap of the era.
What makes Jem so good is the writing. Marx isn't content with creating an ordinary, run-of-the-mill show. She actually goes out of her way to fill Jem with interesting, well-drawn characters. The heroines are girls who rely on intelligence and heart rather than T&A, which is refreshing in this era of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. The perilous situations are all plausible and realistic; the viewer can believe these events could happen. Well, most of the time, that is; the two worst episodes in this package were not scripted by Marx and contain some farfetched silliness. As my godfather often says, you can't have everything.
A common criticism of the program is the animation. Yes, the animation is stiff and sometimes hokey. It could have been better and more fluid with a bigger budget. As far as television animation goes, though, it is about par for the course. Still, what we should look at is that even with a small budget, the creators managed to produce a quality program.
Jem has broad appeal for everyone. Girls will love the high dose of girl power and heroic actions of Jerrica/Jem and her pals. Boys will love the action and high-tech aspects. Adults (parents in particular) will love the positive messages and social issues each program addresses. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and What's Up, Tiger Lily? will love to put the sound on mute and add their own dialogue and observations. No matter the demographic, Jem is worthwhile programming.
Twenty-six episodes are presented complete and uncut on four discs. On a scale of zero to five stars:
* "The Beginning"
As the title says, this is where it all begins.
After the Starlight mansion is destroyed by arson, Jerrica figures out a solution to her problems.
* "Kimber's Rebellion"
Kimber quits the band after an ugly incident occurs during a Paris video shoot.
* "Frame Up"
The Misfits decide to prevent Jem and the Holograms from headlining at a Las Vegas casino.
* "Battle of the Bands"
Eric Raymond discovers Synergy -- and the key to preventing Jem and the Holograms from winning the annual Battle of the Bands contest.
* "Starbright Part 1"
In order to pay for an eye operation for Ba Nee, Jem agrees to make a feature film.
* "Starbright Part 2"
Pizzazz has her father purchase the studio so Eric Raymond and the Misfits can enjoy total control over Jem's film.
* "Starbright Part 3"
Jem and the Holograms decide to make their own film, creating instant competition for the Misfits' mess of a film.
* "The World Hunger Shindig"
Eric Raymond decides to use a benefit concert as a cover for a money-siphoning scheme.
* "Adventure in China"
Roxy steals Jem's magic earrings, setting off a chain reaction of trouble.
* "Last Resorts"
Jem and the Holograms decide to help an owner battle Eric Raymond for control of his ski lodge and resort.
* "In Stitches"
Both the Holograms and the Misfits enter a fashion design contest.
* "The Music Awards Part 1"
Both the Holograms and the Misfits are up for the Best New Artist award.
* "The Music Awards Part 2"
The Misfits' attempt at sabotage backfires as Jem and the Holograms decide not to appear at the awards ceremony.
* "The Rock Fashion Book"
Do different, flashy outfits make a successful rock band? Stay tuned to find out.
* "Broadway Magic"
After Jem wins the lead role in a Broadway play, Eric Raymond places a bounty on her head.
* "In Search of the Stolen Album"
Oh, no! The master tapes for the new Jem and the Holograms album have been stolen.
No prizes for guessing who did it.
* "Hot Time in Hawaii"
Both the Misfits and the Holograms go to Hawaii to enter the Battle of the Music Bands contest.
* "The Princess and the Singer"
Kimber is the dead ringer for a sheltered princess.
* "Island of Deception"
The Misfits and Holograms fall overboard and wash up on a desert island. Survivor it ain't!
* "Old Meets New"
Jem and the Holograms help rock legend Bobby Bailey avoid eviction.
* "Intrigue at the Indy 500"
Jem replaces an injured driver at the Indianapolis 500.
* "The Jem Jam Part 1"
Jem arranges a Woodstockesque rock concert.
* "The Jem Jam Part 2"
The Misfits plot to ruin Jem's superconcert by crashing the party.
* "Culture Clash"
Avant-garde artist Fitzgerald Beck has been given carte blanche for the Holograms' music video. Little does he know that the Misfits, Eric Raymond, and jewel smuggling are in the cards.
* "Glitter and Gold"
The race toward 500,000 record sales and a gold roadster is on! Will Jem or the Misfits prevail?
Rhino, a studio renowned for embracing neglected cult items, has given Jem treatment that most television series would give their left nut for. The full-frame transfers look fairly good for their age. There are some scratches and specks present, but they are not a major distraction; in fact, they are quite minimal. Colors look appropriately bold and beautiful. What good is a cartoon for children without bright color? Rhino has done a particularly good job restoring this aspect for DVD.
As is the custom with most Rhino discs, both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround stereo and 2.0 mono tracks are offered. The surround track has more punch and bite, while the mono track is more muted. Since this is a program in which music plays an important part in the individual stories, I'd stick with the surround stereo track. The extra channels breathe life into the songs and dialogue that mono simply cannot. (Note that some copies of disc two may have a flaw in the stereo track for "Starbright Part 3." It passes quickly, but be forewarned.)
When it comes to extra content, Rhino puts many studios to shame. If you recall, the lack of meaningful extras was a major debit on the recent Warner Bros. Hanna-Barbera DVD releases. Rhino, however, has gone all out to provide good, solid supplements. Four commentary tracks by creator Christy Marx are far and away the best supplements. There are some gaps, but Marx provides enough solid information and in-jokes to make them worthwhile. There is also a lengthy video interview that reveals additional information that supplements the commentary tracks. Rhino also provides a brief interview with Samantha Newark, the voice of Jerrica/Jem. This is also very interesting. The irony is that Newark could sing, yet the producers had another actress perform the singing for Jem!
Also included are eight public service announcements that were created for use during commercial breaks of Jem and other Sunbow shows. They are cheesy, but it is nice to know that there was a time when studios actually cared about giving warnings to kids. Finally, the set includes excerpts from the Jem Production Bible, which was a guideline Marx created for staff writers who were working on scripts for the program.
Rhino has set a $59.98 price tag on Jem. It is about par for a television series, but many stores are selling this set for $44.95 or less. If you are unsure about purchasing this set, try a rental first. While the stiff animation and sometimes dated music may be turnoffs, stick with it. The well crafted, three-dimensional scripts go a long way.
Rhino has shown great love for an unjustly underrated series. Bring on Season Three!
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 645 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Feature Commentary by Creator Christy Marx on Four Episodes
* Interview with Creator Christy Marx
* Interview with Actress Samantha Newark
* Public Service Announcements
* Excerpts from the Jem Production Bible
* Like a Dream: The Jem Roleplaying Adventure
* Official Site of Christy Marx, creator of Jem