Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a reflection on the movie Space Jam, twenty-one years after its release.
Hey, everyone who grew up in the 90s! Want to feel old? A couple of days ago, it was twenty-one years since Space Jam was released in theatres. Yes, really! Time does indeed keep on slipping into the future. In retrospect, I should’ve covered Space Jam for this week’s Wayback Wednesday, as it fell on the actual anniversary of the film’s release, November 15th. However, I completely spaced on that (no pun intended), and I’ve also wanted to revisit NBA Jam Tournament Edition for a while, so I did end up overlooking an obvious opportunity. As such, I’m making up for that with a bit of additional retro content for this week’s Friday Five.
Even if you weren’t around in 1996, chances are that you’ve seen, or at least heard of, Space Jam. The plot basically has some fun with Michael Jordan’s stint playing baseball, suggesting that he was inspired to return to the hardwood after helping Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes defeat a group of aliens who had stolen the talent of five NBA players: Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, and Shawn Bradley. It’s popular and silly, often criticised, and also the highest grossing basketball movie of all-time. It even spawned a video game, which is also worth talking about. So, let’s take a look back…way back…in five points.
Space Jam Gets Too Much Flak
When I mentioned Space Jam a month or so ago in a Friday Five discussing alternate theories for the MyCAREER stories, I did so in the same sentence as some truly classic films, and even used the word “perfection”. For anyone who didn’t pick up on it, I was being facetious. With that being said, while Space Jam isn’t one of the all-time classic films, people are kind of hard on it. Doug Walker, as both himself and The Nostalgia Critic, has expressed his distaste for the film. It wasn’t a hit with critics, and many older Looney Tunes fans, as well as Chuck Jones himself, have derided it. There’s valid criticism there, but frankly, also a bit of curmudgeonly grumbling.
Admittedly, I’m a few years younger than Doug, so in addition to being a huge fan of basketball and Michael Jordan, I was still in the target demographic; just. I also don’t have a fanatical devotion to the “purity” of the Looney Tunes formula and legacy, so I’m more forgiving in that regard. With all that being said though, I do feel that it’s an entertaining film. It pokes fun at MJ’s stint in baseball, as well as his endorsements. There are a few clever lines, such as Bugs’ jab at Disney, and a rather risqué joke with Patrick Ewing. I understand the dislike, but there have been much worse films. Space Jam isn’t critically brilliant or anything, but it’s harmlessly fun and enjoyable.
2. The Video Game is Kind of Mediocre
While I have a lot of nostalgia for Space Jam the movie, I can’t say the same for the video game. I’ve been considering covering it in Wayback Wednesday, but truth be told, there isn’t much to say. In terms of gameplay, it plays very similar to NBA Jam, ironically without some of the more exaggerated dunks. It’s three-on-three as opposed to two-on-two, and you can select and substitute players on your team as desired. This means that you can actually play without Michael Jordan, though since it’s one of the few games MJ appeared in during that era, I don’t see why you would. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, with MJ naturally being the best.
Since it follows the plot of the movie, there’s only one winner-take-all game. To extend the experience a little, there are mini-games, some of which mimic events in the film such as retrieving MJ’s gear, or finding the “Secret Stuff” water bottles at halftime. Even so, there’s not much replay value, even with multiplayer options. The animations are quite good and capture the Looney Tunes style with characters having some of their own signature moves, but the gameplay is repetitive, and basically a pale imitation of NBA Jam at the end of the day. It’s playable at least, and the mini-games do add something a little different, but it’s pretty short and mediocre overall.
3. It Has a Great Soundtrack
Musical taste is obviously as subjective as taste in film, but in my opinion, the soundtrack for Space Jam is pretty damn good. It also received positive reviews, arguably better than the film itself, and is certified as 6x Platinum. R. Kelly’s hit “I Believe I Can Fly” appeared in the film and was first released on the soundtrack album. Seal’s cover of “Fly Like an Eagle” is a great version of the song, and fits very well with the graceful, high-flying highlights that Michael Jordan was known for. Barry White and Chris Rock performed a cover of Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones“, which makes for an enjoyably bizarre shift in tone from the original.
There are also quite a few tracks that stand out as classic sports anthems. That includes the title track itself, performed by Quad City DJ’s. “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars Theme)” by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man, definitely works as an entrance theme. Finally, while it wasn’t featured on the official soundtrack release, 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready For This” is unquestionably a staple of arena music and sports films alike. Say what you will about Space Jam in terms of its narrative, humour, and overall concept, but I’d suggest that James Newton Howard and all of the contributing artists did a great job with the music and soundtrack album.
4. We Don’t Need a Space Jam 2
For several years now, there has been talk of a sequel to Space Jam. Despite whispers that one is still in the works, all that’s come of it are a couple of Nike commercials released around the film’s twentieth anniversary last year. In my opinion, that’s for the best. We don’t need to see a sequel to Space Jam, and no, it’s not because I think the film is perfect, or that a follow-up would be “insulting” to the original. It’s also not because LeBron James has been mentioned as possibly starring in the rumoured sequel, though it is still fun to joke about the twist being that LeBron turns his back on the Looney Tunes and joins the Monstars.
No, the reason we don’t need to see a Space Jam sequel is that it’s over and done with. It’s difficult to imagine it as being anything other than a rehash, and if you’re going to put LeBron in a movie, do something original (he was great in Trainwreck, after all). It’s also very much a product of its time. My generation can look back on it fondly, and I’m sure younger generations can still enjoy it too, but a lot of that appreciation is grandfathered in due to nostalgia, as well as being a suitably family-friendly movie to show to kids. It’s like the proposed remake of White Men Can’t Jump; both it and Space Jam have had their day, and there’s no need to rehash them with new films.
5. For Better or Worse, It’s Part of Pop Culture
Is Space Jam a little corny? Sure. Is it one of Warner Bros’ best films, Looney Tunes or otherwise? No, it’s not. However, it was a film that came along at the right time. Michael Jordan was back in the NBA, and the Chicago Bulls were attempting their “Drive for Five” when Space Jam came out. The Looney Tunes have been popular for decades, and the film was a box office success. I was twelve when Space Jam came out, so as I said, I was getting towards the higher end of the age bracket within the target demographic. Had I been a couple of years older, I may not have enjoyed it as much, but I’ve found that people around my age tend to have a fondness for it.
Pop culture isn’t just made up of the critically acclaimed and seemingly flawless. We can admit that something isn’t necessarily great, without compromising our nostalgia or enjoyment of it. As such, Space Jam has become a part of pop culture. It starred the greatest and most recognisable basketball player of all-time, teaming him up with legendary animated characters in a reasonably impressive technical feat. It had a great soundtrack, and some quotable lines. It’s well-known and remembered affectionately by people it resonated with. It happened, for better or worse, and in my book, it’s an old favourite. And now, Space Jam is twenty-one years old. Where did the time go?
What are your memories of Space Jam? Did you ever play the video game? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.