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Space Jam: 2-Disc Special Edition

Warner Brothers (November 15, 1996), Warner Home Video (October 28, 2003), 2 discs, 88 mins plus supplements, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG, Retail: $26.98

Storyboard:

The Looney Tunes characters team up with NBA superstar Michael Jordon to defeat space aliens in a high-stakes basketball game.

The Sweatbox Review:

When Space Jam first came out in 1996, I avoided seeing it in the theater. I simply did not like the very idea of it: basically a starring vehicle for Michael Jordan, with some of his NBA pals as supporting characters, with the Looney Tunes gang tossed in. Yech. I like MJ as much as anyone, but I thought that any Looney Tunes movie should headline the toons, not a basketball player.

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Then it came out on video. I was not interested in it, but my wife bought it anyways, thinking that I really did want to see it. I watched it, and on many levels loathed the movie. It had its moments, but I could not help feeling that it was all a very bad idea.

Then it came out on DVD. There was no real reason to upgrade from VHS to a full frame DVD with no special features, especially when I hated the movie. Time passed, and a second DVD edition came out, this time with an audio commentary but still in full frame. I was a tiny bit tempted, just for the novelty of a commentary by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but still no sale.

Finally, Warner Brothers put out a package that I couldn’t resist, one that was being released to tie in with the release of their first Looney Tunes Golden Collection. The movie itself still didn’t tempt me too much, but admittedly years of ignoring it made me curious to watch it again, plus there were to be some additional shorts and “making of” material on a second disc. I bought it in the glow of my purchase of the Golden set, and soon found myself sitting on the couch and giving Space Jam another try. The verdict?

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Well, I still think that it was a horrible idea, but for what it is, it is an interesting and somewhat fun special effects film, featuring an engaging basketball player and cartoon characters that look like the Looney Tunes gang. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age, but I no longer loathe the movie. Life is too short to waste time loathing anything like a movie. I may even watch it again in a year or two. It has plenty of fun moments, and it is good seeing my favorite cartoon characters in a big movie, even if they don’t always act like themselves.

The movie goes something like this: Following a flashback to a young Michael Jordan, a title sequence takes us through Michael’s life to the present, ending with his retirement announcement and stated intentions to play major league baseball. It is obvious already that this is a Michael Jordan movie, not a Looney Tunes movie. Why would Warner Brothers allow this to happen?? Anyhow, the footage of MJ’s less than stellar baseball career is humorous, and you have to credit Jordan with having a good sense of humor about it all. (At the time of filming, he had already returned to the Chicago Bulls, and was about to lead them to their fourth championship.)

The viewer is then taken into outer space, to an amusement park called Moron Mountain. (Shouldn’t it be “Maroon”?) Danny Devito voices Swackhammer, the park’s chief, who is desperate to get some new attractions. He sends some little hench-aliens to Earth to capture the Looney Tunes gang, whom he has seen on TV transmissions. The aliens, dubbed “Nerdlucks”, come to Earth and burrow under the ground (coincidentally) near Jordan’s ball park, which is apparently where the toons live. The Nerdlucks interrupt a Bugs/Elmer chase, and Bugs give ‘em the ol’ “Did he look like this?” routine, which is given the response of a laser blast. Bugs cowers and immediately begins to think of what he can do. What?? Bugs is the victim??! That can’t be right! Sure, he can fleetingly be victimized, but he sure doesn’t cower!!

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A town meeting commences in Looney Tune-land, attended by a variety of Looney Tunes, including both stars and bit players. It is decided to challenge the little aliens to a basketball game, with the fate of the Looney Tunes in the balance. This plan goes awry when the aliens steal the abilities of several NBA players (including Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, and others), and gain their talent and more than their size. Watch for a scene at Barkley’s game where Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) are attending.

The world is shocked to see the great players become hopeless clods on the court, and scenes follow of the players in therapy and undergoing medical tests. Meanwhile, the Looney Tunes get a look at the new giant Nerdlucks, and coin them the “Monstars” instead. At this point, Bugs and the others decide that they need some help, leading to the kidnapping of Jordan from a golf course, where he is playing with Larry Bird and Bill Murray (with Jordan’s assistant, Wayne Knight of Seinfeld, watching). Bugs pleads with Jordan (Bugs “pleads”?), and their training commences at Schlesinger Gym (in a nice nod to the longtime Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer). They are joined by that new cartoon sensation, Lola Bunny, never to be seen again after this movie.

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This naturally leads to an epic game between the Monstars and the Looney Tunes. The fates of the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan rest on the outcome. Marvin the Martian shows up to ref the game, apparently a neutral party in the conflict. Granny and Witch Hazel are cheerleaders, and many favorite cartoon characters can be seen watching the game.

My main problem with this movie, aside from the fact that WB allowed it to become a Jordan movie instead of showcasing their own cartoon stars, is that it is so dated. (And if you doubt that this is a Michael Jordan vehicle, guess who scores the winning basket!) It is just wrong to have taken these classic characters, given them their first original full-length movie, and dressed it up with so many basketball stars of the moment. I realize that the classic toons made ample use of topical humor, but those were generally gags or impressions, not the whole point of the cartoon! Having all these players who will be forgotten in a few years (with exceptions) makes this movie hopelessly a product of its time and keeps it from being a “classic” itself.

Producer Ivan Reitman thought it was a good idea, and so did live action director Joe Pytka, as a similar concept had been tried originally in a well-received Super Bowl commercial that Pytka had directed. Pytka then did a series of both Nike and McDonalds commercials with Jordan and/or the Looney Tunes characters. However, a commercial or a series of commercials is not the same as a feature film. Those commercials are no longer shown, but Space Jam still sits on video shelves. It just would have been nice if they had intended to make a classic rather than shooting for a flash in the pan.

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Other problems with Space Jam that I haven’t already mentioned:
- Bill Murray’s cameo role is oddly expanded all of a sudden in the movie’s dying minutes; this was apparently not always the plan, as Pytka states in the commentary— it was tacked on, and it feels like it.
- The Looney Tunes are almost excessively shaded to make them look 3-D, even in their own world; this was an unneeded “updating” that is distracting at times and takes them further away from being “our” Looney Tunes.
- The music is contemporary pop and rap— again, a choice to make the movie less “classic” and more “today”. I suppose the appropriateness of this depends again on whether one supports updating the characters or not. Personally, these characters will always be products of the 1930’s to 1960’s, and it is jarring to see them used otherwise.
- Lovesick Bugs gets pathetic over Lola. There were cartoons where his head was turned, sure, but in Space Jam he is just a mess. Bugs, get a grip!
- Speedy Gonzales is there, but the PC police don’t let him do anything.
-There is so much time spent with the NBA players, most of the Looney Tunes characters have little screen time, or stand around doing nothing.
- Elmer Fudd should never, ever look like a cool basketball player. That’s just wrong. I don’t care if he does think he’s taken a magic potion. He should likewise not look cool in a Pulp Fiction riff.
- Richard Simmons is in it.

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Good things: Lots of bit players appear as players or spectators, to make cartoon fans happy. This includes Hubie and Bertie, Rocky, The Three Little Bops, The Three Bears, Sniffles, Michigan J. Frog, and many more. Barry White has a song here, and gosh-darn it, I just can’t dislike him no matter what. James Newton Howard’s score brings a more classic sense to the proceedings than the animation. And the squashy, stretchy animation and special effects really are well done.

Is This Thing Loaded?

The animated menu introduction with the viewer traveling through space is nice enough, but I prefer it when I can skip the animation so that I don’t have to watch it every time I insert the disc.

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The first true extra feature is the Audio Commentary. The packaging says that it is by Bugs, Daffy, and director Joe Pytka, but actually Billy West and Dee Bradley Baker spend more time as themselves than Bugs and Daffy. This was actually a relief for me, since I was anticipating a re-do of the truly awful Muppets From Space commentary with Kermit and the director (my choice for worst commentary of all time). West and Baker really do provide some nice insight into making the movie, and even years later seem thrilled to have had the opportunity to voice the classic characters. Pytka’s talk was obviously recorded separately, and is further separated from the other speakers by an unnecessary sound of footsteps. His comments are not really screen specific, as he offers various anecdotes on the film’s look, music, and origins. Overall, this is a track worth listening to. It certainly adds insight into Pytka’s vision: He acknowledges Roger Rabbit’s inspiration, but wanted to do something more contemporary and punchier. He also says that the original animation on the film was “too classic” for what he wanted, and had it re-done to give it more “thrust”. Now there’s a problem right there! Why mess with a classic?

The other non-ROM item on Disc 1 is the film’s Trailer, offered in widescreen but looking a little fuzzier than the feature.

On to Disc 2, we have the 1996 extended advertisement Jammin’ With Bugs Bunny And Michael Jordan (22:33). As an appetizer for more in-depth featurettes, this would have been nice, but on its own it is rather fluffy. Very brief interview snippets are seen with Reitman, Jordan, Pytka, composer James Newton Howard, and Chuck Jones, all unfortunately avoiding much of substance. Pytka’s contribution is surprisingly limited, but look for the “hippie” in some of the filming shots. A welcome inclusion is Termite Terrace home movies with the Looney Tunes animation directors, and a spot with Mel Blanc. The narrator of the piece is essentially a cheerleader for the movie and its stars, and the clips of old Bugs Bunny cartoons are the most entertaining part of the whole effort. It was also good of them to include a clip of the classic live action-animation short You Ought To Be In Pictures. We do get a look at some of the animation and effects techniques (like Jordan playing b-ball with green-suited players on a green stage), with glimpses of production art, but this really screams for some more in-depth follow-up. At least the cramped full screen shots from the film shown here make a good argument for watching it in widescreen.

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The next selection off the Extras menu is Adventures, really a selection of supposedly “classic” Looney Tunes shorts. In actuality, three of them are by Greg Ford from 1987 and 1991, one is a newer Chuck Jones effort, and one is a terrible TV special. Jones’ Another Froggy Evening” (9:12) from 1995 is a follow-up to his true classic about the singing frog. I loved this sequel, with an ending that is surprising and wonderful but I can say no more without spoiling it for you. If for no other reason, I am glad I bought this disc for this cartoon.

Ford’s cartoons include the 1987 duo of Daffy Duck cartoons The Duxorcist and Night Of The Living Duck, and 1991’s Invasion Of The Bunny Snatchers. Classics these ain’t, but they do have their moments. Living Duck has Daffy voiced by Mel Torme, so if that sounds interesting, check it out. Invasion has been edited by almost 3 full minutes, though, leaving out all the Yosemite Sam segments. I have no idea why, except that perhaps this was accidentally taken from a print that had simply been edited for time for whatever reason.

1988’s Bugs Vs. Daffy: Battle Of The Music Video Stars is just a waste. This TV special has some vague story of Bugs and Daffy having competing music video shows, each showing clips from old Warner Brothers cartoons. There are some gems in there, but only brief segments are included, destroying their value. There is some Bosko, Any Bonds Today, Scrap Happy Daffy, and many more. For ADD sufferers only. If you are still interested in watching this, you should know that there were also edits made to the video and audio. Click this linkfor details.

Finally, Disc 2 also has two music videos, Seal’s Fly Like An Eagle, and Monstars Anthem: Hit ‘em High.

DVD-ROM: Both discs have a demo of the Looney Tunes: Back In Action video game, good for a few seconds of amusement.

Case Study:

I did like the digipack packaging, with a foldout unit inside a shiny slipcase. Pretty slick, with some nice artwork inside.

Ink And Paint:

Veddy nice! You couldn’t ask for much better, with a presentation that is finally in widescreen, opening up the frame nicely over the previously cramped pan and scan versions. The colors dazzle, and I could find no problems in the transfer. This is a pretty beautiful job, if a tad lacking in detail. Not reference quality, but nice.

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Scratch Tracks:

The 5.1 audio is great, too, taking full advantage of the movie’s kinetic and spacious audio mix. Characters race across the screen and your speakers, and loud sounds are sold by plenty of oomph in the lower registers. This is a fun track that helps to make up for a lack of execution in other areas of the movie.

French and Spanish tracks are also available for the movie, and all three languages are available as subtitles. On Disc 2, there is a Languages menu, but there is only one choice given!

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Final Cut:

I see this film as a curiosity more than anything else, a high concept idea from movie executives who know more about profits than honoring their corporate assets. There was clearly a lot of effort that went into the movie, and for what it is it is entertaining. The animation is plenty slick, and the special effects are state of the art. A few chuckles can be found, and the movie does its job to keep one interested in the proceedings. This may not sound like a strong recommendation of the movie, and it is not. Many people like this movie wholeheartedly, and I am glad that they can do so. For me, only half of my heart is in it.

As far as this new 2-disc set goes, the video and audio quality is certainly there, but the special features leave one wanting more. The “documentary” is weak fluff, and the shorts (except for Froggy) are weak, not to mention edited. Buy this for the nifty Chuck Jones short, or if you already love Space Jam and need it in widescreen.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

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