Welcome to the jam.
You have to admit, it was an inspired idea. Take the world's most famous athlete (basketball star Michael Jordan) and some of history's most beloved cartoon characters (Bugs Bunny and Co.) and mash them together into an animated/live action comedy for both children and adults. The result was Space Jam, a no-holds barred sports comedy for the whole family. Also starring various NBA superstars and other famous Hollywood faces, Space Jam makes a slam dunk on DVD in a new two-disc special edition care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Poor Michael Jordan. After retiring from basketball, he decides to try his hand at professional baseball. Unfortunately Michael's talents on the court don't transfer to the diamond—though he's not a very good swinger, his teammates and coaches all lavish him with praise ("He looks great in that uniform," one teammate quips. You can't teach that."). Yes, it's truly a rough day for a man who's made a gazillion dollars and has gone on to be one of the most recognized athletes in the world.
Elsewhere the Looney Tunes (who apparently live somewhere under the earth) are getting along just fine until a group of tiny aliens arrive to take them away to their home planet for enslavement. It seems that their leader, a blustering alien named Swackhammer (voice of Danny DeVito) is in need of some new attractions for his amusement park, Moron Mountain, and the Loony Tunes fit the bill. Thinking on his feet, Bugs Bunny devises a plan for them to stay on earth: challenge the vertically inept extraterrestrials to a game of hoops. But things don't go as planned when the aliens magically steal the talents of five of the best NBA players (including Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing) and become enormous Mon-stars.
What's a bunny to do?
Call on Michael Jordan, that's what! Michael is sucked into the Lonny Tunes land while playing a round of golf with Larry Bird and Bill Murray (as themselves). It's here that Bugs recruits Mike to join their Toon Squad team and help them win the game…but it won't be easy! The Mon-stars have skill, force, and attitude. But they don't have one thing essential to winning the game: Air Jordan!
I don't like Space Jam. I didn't like when I first saw it seven years ago, the second time two weeks after that (I was forced to on a date), and I didn't like it on DVD two nights ago. I don't hate the movie—I just think there are dozens of better animated family movies out there. Why waste your time with something as inconsequential as this?
My problems with Space Jam are many. First of all, I couldn't stand the way the film lavished praise and love on Michael Jordan. I realize Jordan is a great basketball player and a top-notch athlete. I have no problem with the movie admitting this. What I do have a problem with is the way the characters all practically bow at his feet, especially when he encounters the Loony Tunes. Couldn't the writers come up with something a bit more interesting and witty than telling everyone how unbelievably fantastic Michael Jordan is?
And then there are the animated characters. I remember back in the day when Bugs Bunny was pretty cool and the rest of the Warner Brothers animated 'toons were really funny (ah, those late, great Chuck Jones years). In Space Jam, we get a watered down version of many of these characters, including a badly voiced Yosemite Sam and a very bland Bugs Bunny.
The story, or what there is of it, tends to learn toward not only the suspension of disbelief but also assuming the laws of physics and reality don't apply. I know, I know—it's a movie about cartoons and the real world and I should just accept it, but I can't. In the far superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the laws of Toon Town and the real world were (mostly) separated. In Space Jam, we're to assume that 1.) the vastness of space is really made up of cartoon aliens voiced by Danny DeVito, 2.) Warner owns a small animated world underneath the United States, and 3.) anything can happen at any time because cartoon characters really do exist.
If it sounds like I'm being overly critical…well, perhaps. I just couldn't get into Space Jam. I like Jordan as much as the next guy, and while he's amiable and decent in this film (he is playing himself, after all), I think he needs to stick with either sports games or shilling Nike shoes. And what is Bill Murray doing in this movie?
A few jokes hit their target, including some spoofing of Jordan's career and a pot shot at Disney, but they're few and far between. If you're in the mood to see various cameos by famous sports faces you may be in luck—this movie features more athletes than an NBA All-Star game.
At a scant 88 minutes the good news is that Space Jam won't eat away too much of your time. There aren't any offensive moments or scenes I wouldn't let smaller children watch, and for that this disc may be worth picking up for them. As for adults, unless you're a real Loony Tunes or Jordan fanatic, you may want to take a pass.
Space Jam is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Twice before fans had to suffer through pan and scan versions of the film. Finally, to promote their new upcoming feature film Loony Tunes: Back in Action, Warner has produced a widescreen version of this movie. Overall this is a decent looking print—the colors are contrasted well with black levels appearing dark and solid. The image isn't quite as crisp as one might hope, but that's a small complaint considering the fact that fans can finally see this film in its original aspect ratio. Grain, edge enhancement, and other imperfections have been kept to a minimum.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. Holy smokes, what a rush! This 5.1 mix is filled to the brim with lots of pounding bass and a vast array of surround sounds and directional effects. Both the front and rear speakers are engaged quite frequently making for a great listen. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
For a two-disc set, this special edition of Space Jam sure is light on the extra features. Starting off the set is a commentary track by director Joe Pytka and the voice talent behind Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I can easily recommend this commentary rather than the movie. While Pytka doesn't have a lot to say (he shows up only occasionally), Bugs and Daffy (and the actors behind them) frequently have a lot to say, some of it goofy and some of it downright hysterical. Recommended even if you didn't like the film.
Flipping over to disc two is a 22-minute featurette titled "Jammin' with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan." All this really turns out to be is a fluffy promotional piece for the film. Interviews with producer Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and star Michael Jordan are included, as well as some footage from behind-the-scenes and the special effects. The kids may enjoy this, but don't expect to learn much about the making of the film.
Next up are a few short cartoon featurettes, including "Another Froggy Evening," "Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers," "Night of the Living Duck," "The Duxorcist," and "Bugs Vs. Daffy: Battle of the Music Video Stars" (most of them movie and horror parodies). "Another Froggy Evening" is especially entertaining with Michigan J. Frog making another appearance as that singing toad who only shuts up when people come around.
Finally, there is an anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film, plus two music videos, Seal's "Fly Like an Eagle" and Monstars Anthem's "Hit 'Em High." Shockingly, R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" video is nowhere to be seen. What a shock.
Kids and sports fanatics may have a ball with Space Jam. As for this reviewer, I found it to be a bit pandering and far too light on story and character (I know it's a movie about cartoons and a basketball star, but still). Warner's work on this disc is above average, though not spectacular.
The best thing I can say is that it's been given a widescreen transfer. Otherwise, I'm calling a foul on Space Jam.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Director Joe Pytka
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