Welcome back around to another edition of NBApril on TBT. What did you guys think of the first choice, by the way? Crap? Excellent? Cra-xcellent? Whatever your view, hopefully this week can be an improvement as we take on a film that cannot possibly have escaped any one’s viewing. . . . unless these people are indeed, truly heathens. . .or don’t do the whole ‘sports movie thing.’ Which, that’s fine too, and all. I guess. 😀 But I must warn that if you do indeed subscribe to basketball movies, the one we’re talking about today isn’t strictly an accurate portrayal of the sport. Not in any way, shape or form. In fact it’s pretty much the exact opposite of that. If you love basketball as a sport, an art form if you will, you might have your fair share of issues with the way things are handled here. Still, you’ve more than likely seen it because it is so hard to avoid (for better and for worse). You may disagree with me, but I’ve never had so much fun watching the game becoming as butchered as it is here, all for the sake of silly popcorn entertainment.
Today’s food for thought: Space Jam.
Release: November 15, 1996
There are some creations from the ’90s that got a touch of that nostalgic magic, and some were dipped in it so deeply you can feel the distinct feeling in your gut of remembering where you were and what you were doing when you last watched it as a little tyke. It’s a physical process reflecting on some movies and revisiting the animation-live action concoction that is Space Jam kind of proves that to be so.
Colorful, unforgettable. . . .and shamelessly profitable for both the gigantic entities it featured (I hope Bugs Bunny didn’t forget to brush his teeth for his big screen debut), the cross-promotional behemoth otherwise known as Space Jam schemed its way into theaters and charmed the pants off of its sizable audience with a blend of riveting live-action (featuring top-talent NBA stars) and the goofy, animated critters the world had come to know and love as Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Tweety Bird and Elmer Fudd, just to name a few. While the storyline amounted to nothing original or truly inspired, the merging of the athletic association with a popular cartoon proved to be a radically successful one. It’s a film that seemed to stop the clock for a brief 88 minutes.
Part of the movie’s genius was being able to capture Michael Jordan — His Airness — as he was hitting the pinnacle of his career. As it is to basketball, timing is an incredibly valuable asset to filmmaking, and getting this made as Jordan was stepping into (and then, of course, later back out of) retirement from the game gave Space Jam a relevance undeniable. Jordan, being one of the greatest players the game had ever seen and arguably one of the greatest competitors who has ever lived, instantly gave the film gravitas and a reason to be. While he was clearly no actor, his mere presence in this format was a spectacle that sold remarkably well. And today it is still one of the more priceless take-aways of Space Jam‘s existence. They spring-boarded MJ’s acting career!!!
If you need any welcoming at all to the Jam, here’s a brief rundown: the Looney Tunes are facing a ginormous, spondiferous threat from some punky little aliens that are searching the universe over for some slaves to help make their theme park, Moron Mountain, more attractive. They are captured and taken to the theme park only to ridicule the diminutive little guys during the trial proceedings once there, despite still ultimately being shackled by the aliens. The creatures soon discover a place called Earth is home to these incredibly large beings that seem to be just what Moron Mountain needs to kick their biz into high gear. They journey to Earth and are able to inhabit the bodies of multiple big-named NBA players including (oh, I love this name drop!): Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley and Larry Johnson, thereby “stealing” their talent.
Luckily the little intrepid buggers don’t get to MJ. The Tunes bargain with the aliens for their freedom over a game of b-ball, but unbeknownst to Bugs and pals, these little shits now have the ability to become towering monsters. They call themselves the Monstars and they basically. . . .well, they smash ass. (I would say ‘kick’ but that would sound like I am condoning their behavior, which I do not!) The Tunes have a major problem and they tunnel through the center of the Earth in a desperate search for the world’s greatest basketball player to teach them how to not suck at playing.
Their situation is dire, but their idea is profound, and the mission noble. But one thing I’ve always wondered, as great of a coach MJ could be (are you listening, Charlotte Bobcats front office?), there’s nothing he ever could have said to make these poor critters taller. Height is kind of a factor in basketball. That is academic, though. They manage to recruit Jordan, and in an ultimate decision to settle the Moron Mountain situation, the Looney Tunes (who name themselves ‘The Tune Squad’) and Monstars agree to square play a game in a giant arena. Ten-foot-tall beasts versus the 6-foot-9 North Carolina Tarheel guard and his many two-foot-tall animal friends, squaring off on the hardwood. A match-up for the ages.
To reiterate, Space Jam leans not on originality, at least not in the writing department. It actually doesn’t even make an attempt there. Michael’s journey down the golf hole is an inspirational fable about following one’s dreams and doing what you can to help others achieve theirs. My blog is now more cliché for me having just written that. However, what the story lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in visual stimulation. Jordan’s fish-out-of-water experience in Looney Tune Land was the major selling point of the film, there is no doubt about it. The events that happened thereafter feel more like bonus material; we were watching to see Michael interact with some of the most classic animated characters ever created. The results were potent. Charm and giddy excitement brim over in this infectious mixture of brand marketing and filmmaking.
Above all else, Space Jam is iconic. As a strategic piece of marketing and product placing and name-dropping and not-much-basketball-rule-following, the Pyka brothers’ directorial effort accounts for many images we might walk around with in our heads today when thinking of ’90s entertainment. And sounds, as well. The soundtrack is one of the most popular animated/blockbuster records perhaps ever released. Makes sense. Nothing recalls ’90s flat-tops more than listening to ‘Basketball Jones,’ and few players defined the basketball decade more than the likes of Barkley, Ewing and Jordan. Watching these men assemble on screen actually is cooler to watch now than it was as a child.
Regardless of criticism aimed at Space Jam‘s simplicity and eagerness to sell EVEN MORE Air Jordans and stuffed Bugs Bunny’s (I’m not sure which is more impossible), there’s a plethora of aspects that remain enjoyable about the blockbuster event to this day. While not an incredibly well-made film, it was incredibly successful — going on to gross $230 million internationally — and endlessly entertaining.
Now, the last remaining question is, am I going to do it again? . . .am I? Am I going to do it in this review?
Yes, I am. This movie was a slam-dunk.
Recommendation: Immensely quotable and featuring a cast of characters unmatched by any animated or live-action film since, Space Jam is one-of-a-kind while sticking strictly to formulaic film-making strategies. In that sense, it’s an immense accomplishment. Total cult classic.
Running Time: 88 mins.
Quoted: “But Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today. I wanna stay home and bake cookies with you!”
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