Looking Back At SPACE JAM - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Looking Back At SPACE JAM

Chris Morley believes he can fly.
As its standalone sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy is currently taking something of a critical panning, let's lace up our Air Jordans and run with a Chicago Bull for a look back at the original Space Jam, the 1996 film which saw Michael Jordan team-up with the Looney Tunes to become part of the Tune Squad in possibly the most surreal game of his life.

Space Jam was actually presented as a not entirely serious attempt to explain what really happened during Jordan's temporary retirement from the NBA to play Minor League baseball for the Chicago White Sox. It wasn't, as some have speculated, an NBA-enforced suspension for gambling during 1993's play-offs, although Jordan was spotted doing so in Atlantic City the night before a game against the New York Knicks. He would later look back on this and say...
"Yeah, I've gotten myself into situations where I would not walk away and I've pushed the envelope. Is that compulsive? Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. If you're willing to jeopardize your livelihood and your family, then yeah."
With last year's Netflix documentary The Last Dance reigniting interest in Jordan's incredible part in the success of the Nineties Bulls team - six championships between 1991-98 - the 1996 release of Space Jam proved something of a shrewd move on his part.

In a sense the film is a sort of animated first episode for The Last Dance, the introductory scenes featuring young Michael telling his father that he wants to go to the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill to play in its basketball team before going into the NBA as a professional. Then a game of golf with his assistant and Bill Murray ends with Jordan sucked into the Looney Tunies' universe as Bugs Bunny & company seek help against the threat of becoming attractions in a sinister space theme park, Moron Mountain.

A high stakes game, which the “wabbit”, as Elmer Fudd so often dubbed him, believes he & his friends will win easily since the other team, the Nerdlucks, are tiny, turns on its head when the opponents see a documentary on basketball and set about stealing the necessary talent from Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. And in so doing they become a unit Sylvester the Cat dubs the Monstars! Given their imposing physiques and superior talent its perhaps inevitable that they look to be doing to the Tune Squad what the Bulls had been to the rest of the NBA for a good few years on a reasonably consistent basis.

So, we might ask, what persuaded their star player Jordan to commit in the first place? According to Vulture it was simple - the cash! Not to mention a little reinforcement of his star status.
“By all accounts, the idea for Space Jam came from M.J.’s agent, David Falk. Jordan had previously played alongside Bugs Bunny in a 1992 Super Bowl commercial for Nike, and Falk hit upon the idea of expanding that minute-long spot into a feature film.

Falk sold the concept to the studio “as much for its merchandising potential as for its box-office appeal. Jordan and his team had spent years turning down Hollywood offers; taking the wrong project could lead to disaster.

But this one ticked all the right boxes: Starring in a kid’s movie fit perfectly with Jordan's squeaky-clean image and it gave him a role everyone knew he could handle: himself. The project also provided numerous cross-promotional opportunities, including plenty of screen time for the Air Jordans and key product placement for his other endorsements.

Millions of children who weren’t staying up for the Eastern Conference Semi-finals would still go out and see the film in theaters.”
And they certainly did go and see the film, with Space Jam ending 1996 as the tenth highest-grossing movie of the year, and to this day it remains the highest-grossing basketball film with a profit of $250 million. The blend of live action & animation, particularly in the match sequences, got high praise. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune applauded it as a successful vehicle for Jordan, saying...
"He wisely accepted as a first movie a script that builds nicely on his genial personality in an assortment of TV ads. The sound bites are just a little longer."

Although, during production, not everyone was convinced that Space Jam would be a sure-fire hit. There was much initial skepticism that putting the biggest name in the game alongside cartoon characters would work! Even director Joe Pytka had misgivings, especially when he struggled to get any established actors to sign-up for the movie...
"I mean, they're going to work with an animated character and an athlete — are you serious? They just didn't want to do it."
As the first movie produced by Warners' Feature Animation division, and the first animated film to make use of a virtual studio with green screen, perhaps that's not surprising. Yet it didn't stop Jordan's fellow NBA players hastily agreeing to take part in Space Jam. Although whether, at the time of signing, they knew they'd be covered in motion trackers so their places could eventually be taken by the animated playing members of the Tune Squad & Monstars respectively is unknown.

A sequel to Space Jam was planned as early as 1996, with the Tune Squad taking on new villain Berserk-O, but. Michael declined to appear. Several further potential sequels were explored across the years, twisting the concept with a new sport; Race Jam with Jeff Gordon, a golf-centered film with Tiger Woods, and Skate Jam with Tony Hawk were all discussed but never came to be. The proposed Spy Jam with Jackie Chan ended up becoming the basis for Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Warner Bros really wanted Space Jam 2 but Jordan stood firm. Eventually, in February 2014, it was officially announced that development of a sequel was happening and that it would star LeBron James. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he said
“In my younger days, part of my thinking was ‘Space Jam was so good, how can I top this? There's always going to be conversations about LeBron trying to do everything Michael [did]. But I’ve gotten older, and you know who you are. You know what you stand for.”
If the reviews for Space Jam: A New Legacy are anything to go by, LeBron and the new squad stand for an excessive amount of product placement, a severe lack of the original film's quirky sense of humour and self-referential comedy. Yet the Space Jam legacy shows no sign of stopping as a third movie has swiftly been set in development! This time with Dwayne Johnson involved as the lead, transitioning on the sports genre from basketball to professional wrestling. Given all the previous false starts and abandoned sequels over the last 25 years, will Bugs and the Tune Squad smell what the Rock is cooking? We will have to wait and see...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad