Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Second Look - Space Jam

Three years ago, I reviewed the Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan movie Space Jam, both to look at something I had seen as a kid and as a lead-in to the game Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. In the years since the original post, I have come to realize that, among other things, my opinion on the movie may have been more influenced by an outside source than I had initially believed. So, in time for the movie’s 21st anniversary, I have decided to rewatch the movie and offer a re-review based on how I felt. Though some of my opinions stay the same, I have generally come to view Space Jam a little more positively, though still not entirely.

Based on a Nike Super Bowl commercial, the movie opens with a young Michael Jordan (Brandon Hammond) aspiring to become a professional basketball player, which the opening credits montage of NBA footage shows that he does. As he did in real life, the movie cuts to Jordan (played by himself) starting a professional baseball career to emulate his father. Over the course of the movie, he is dragged into an interstellar conflict in which he must help the Looney Tunes (who live in the center of the Earth) win a basketball game against a group of aliens called the Nerdlucks, who have absorbed the talents of professional NBA stars to become the Monstars. If the Looney Tunes lose, they will be forced to become the latest attraction of the space amusement park Six Flags Magic Mountain Moron Mountain, run by Mr. Swackhammer (Danny DeVito).

The crossover 63% of you asked for (from left: Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan).

The story generally follows a consistent pace, managing to balance the two narratives of Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes to form a somewhat cohesive whole. There is, however, a plot point that seems to come out of nowhere, that being Bill Murray’s (playing himself) appearance in the final act, where he suddenly joins the Tune Squad to help defeat the Monstars in the big basketball game. His appearance is explained away by a meta joke (he was essentially able to walk onto the set), however it still seems like a deus ex machina since the only foreshadowing he gets is him discussing basketball, while playing golf, with Michael Jordan prior to Jordan getting taken to the Tunes’ world. In any case, as said in the preceding paragraph, it does accurately portray Michael Jordan’s professional sports career, since he went from the NBA to the MiLB before returning to the NBA, playing for the Chicago Bulls before and after baseball. Behind the scenes, production for Space Jam may have helped influence Jordan’s return to basketball, seen at the end of the movie, as the studio had constructed a full-size basketball court so he could practice and
 get back into the rhythm of playing.

The animation is actually pretty good, at least in regards to the Tunes and the aliens, and manages to hold up pretty well (although the general quality fluctuates a little during the climactic basketball game). The CG effects, on the other hand, are incredibly outdated by today’s standards, even with the context of the animated characters. When applied to humans especially, these effects can easily edge into nightmare fuel, among such moments a scene where Jordan is morphed into a basketball-like shape that the Monstars play around with to taunt the Tunes. In spite of this, viewers may enjoy seeing their favorite Looney Tunes characters on-screen, even some more obscure characters that appear in some crowd shots (including the recently-memetic Dover Boys, whose short is currently public domain). Though the Tunes themselves can be a little more mean-spirited than what you’d find in an old Looney Tunes short, one can view these versions of the Tunes as alternate counterparts to the ones featured in the shorts, partially due to this movie setting them up as living inside the Earth’s core.

Quick, before the copyright gets renewed!

As stated in my original review, a positive I would give the movie is its soundtrack, which features the memetic “Space Jam” by Quad City DJs, as well as the R. Kelly hit “I Believe I Can Fly” among other then-popular artists/songs that turn the 6x Platinum soundtrack into a ‘90s time capsule. Since my initial review, I have come to find more humor in the movie, including some visual gags and off-hand lines (including some of Bill Murray’s dialogue), however I still think it could have done without the occasional moments of toilet humor, at least one of which, where they literally spit-shine an old basketball court, was just a bit gross to see animated. The subplot of the now-talentless NBA stars is actually kind of funny, including a scene where it makes the plot of the movie sound even more ridiculous when put into spoken words. My opinion on the product placement remains the same, in that it can become a bit in-your-face; in one particular scene, the character of Stanley (Wayne Knight) rattles off a bunch of brands while telling Michael Jordan to get ready, with Jordan eating food from McDonald’s (who has actually sponsored him) on top of that.

In spite of the dubious quality of the movie, it does indeed have an enduring legacy, least of which is attaining a lasting cult following. Charles Barkley, one of the NBA stars featured in the movie as a victim of the Nerdlucks’ abilities, was made the main character of a (hilarious) fan-made RPG game, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (full name: Tales of Game’s Studios Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa), which actually features the story of Space Jam as part of the backstory as well as its own remix of the “Space Jam” theme. The game is set to get a Kickstarted sequel with original assets, Barkley 2 (full name: The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa), though it remains in development.

A more notable aspect of Space Jam’s legacy is that it features the first appearance of Lola Bunny; though she doesn’t have much character here (being introduced solely to give Bugs Bunny a love interest), she has since been given more development in following Looney Tunes offshoots, among them the Cartoon Network series The Looney Tunes Show, as well as having a descendent of hers starring in the Kids WB series Loonatics Unleashed. Talks of a sequel to Space Jam have also been going around for years, although so far nothing official has ever materialized for it.

Lola Bunny (right) didn't have much to go on in her first outing.

Upon giving it a second chance, Space Jam is, in my opinion, okay. There’s some legitimately funny moments in it and the traditional animation is a highlight (as is hearing the late June Foray actually voicing her regular characters), however it still doesn’t entirely appeal to me as a complete package. Regardless, it is rather easy to see why the movie has a cult following, especially when factoring in Lola Bunny’s debut in this movie as well as various memes and the aforementioned fan game starring Charles Barkley (plus I’m not one to judge unironic enjoyment of this particular movie since I unironically enjoy UHF). I wouldn’t entirely recommend Space Jam to Looney Tunes fans aside from its historical value for Lola, though it is overall somewhat enjoyable and is worth watching once to form your own opinion, especially if you’re a fan of Michael Jordan or are gearing up to play Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.

Would you believe the official website is still active?

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