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Space Jam - Special Edition

Warner Bros. // PG // October 21, 2003
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted November 7, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes have delighted generations of children (and adults) with their wacky antics over the years. From the street smart Bugs Bunny, to the quick tempered Yosemite Sam to the silliness of Daffy Duck (among others), each character drew from some archetype of popular culture and the writing of their skits delighted us as they faced challenge after challenge, from the mundane to the extraordinary. In the last few decades, cost cutting measures have reduced many of the short films these characters appeared in to cookie cutter "product" but that's to be expected in the harsh world of corporate profits. Whatever makes the most money, be it limiting the time and resources spent on a short to altering plots in order to keep an advertiser happy to exploring marketing options by adding "cute" characters that will sell well to little kids, is fair game. This brings us to the subject of this review, Space Jam: Special Edition.

The movie was released in 1996 and focused on a predicament of the cartoon characters that needed the help of a sports superstar in order to win their freedom. A promoter (voice by Danny Devito) from a far off planet, Moron Mountain, is looking for an attraction to increase profits. He comes across some animated cartoons from Earth and orders his employees to get the characters by any means necessary. They arrive on Earth and challenge Bugs Bunny and crew to a basketball game, even though the little aliens are tiny. In order to win the game though, the aliens steal the athletic abilities of such notables as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing (very talented on the court) and others, which makes them ~14 feet tall. The Warner Bros. cartoons, seeing their chances at freedom slipping away, recruit Michael Jordan to assist them in an all star basketball game. Jordan's abilities on the court are legendary, even though he has retired to try his hand at baseball, and if anyone can help them, he's the man.

The rest of the movie plays out in formulaic fashion with the cartoons losing the first half and then trying to come from behind during the second half of the game. Far too much of the movie was spent on Jordan, a talented athlete but a dreadfully bad actor, and the script was written by two (or more) writing teams in order to include a great many cultural references and insider jokes that date the movie in a great many ways. What might have been a very funny short film appeared dragged out well past it's useful life in order to flesh out the movie to feature length.

As far as the much-vaunted special effects that combined the live action and cartoon characters went, it was mixed at best. I'm sure they were good enough for the primary audience (children under 10 years old) but all too often they were not even cutting edge for the time they were released, making me think far too much of the budget went to paying for the multitude of professional basketball players that had minor roles in the movie rather than displayed on screen.

The movie, much like this review, rambled an awful lot and ultimately seemed designed solely for kids and basketball fans, both groups not likely to fuss too much over the details. As a cultural curio, it was interesting, but as a feature movie, I'd suggest you buy the recent Looney Tunes box set for better cartoons and stick with watching actual basketball games to see the athletes. That said, I think the movie is worth a rating of Rent It unless you're a major fan of the various athletes here.

Picture: The picture was presented in remastered 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color, as originally shot. It looked better than the two previous volumes released on DVD although there was some grain and a few moments of edge enhancement that even I noticed. The DVD transfer was solid and I don't recall seeing any digital artifacts or other problems with it.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of English, French and Spanish in the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround format with optional subtitles in those languages and captions for the hearing impaired. The sound here was very solid with some good separation on the front channels at times. The bass was clear and tight and the mix between the vocals and music well done.

Extras: The best extra for me was the audio commentary track with the director and some of the voice actors (in character). It was often funnier than the movie itself and provided some technical details to the making of the show. There was a second DVD full of extras as well, starting with a well done feature on the behind the scenes of the movie, a couple of music videos, a game demo for Looney Tunes, the trailer, and a bunch of classic cartoon shorts (most of which centered on Halloween themes), and a free children's movie pass to the upcoming feature release, Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

Final Thoughts: I really would have preferred that the voices for the cartons be the original Mel Blanc (R.I.P.) or his son Noel but it's my understanding that the producers wanted to pay very little for his services, preferring instead to pay the athletes huge salaries. Such are the priorities of major motion picture making these days but as much as the replacement voices did an okay job, it just wasn't the same. The movie wasn't as bad as the critics made it out to be, at least for its intended audiences, nor was it as great as its supporters would have us believe, but it was definitely mediocre in many ways as obviously intended to cash in on the various merchandising opportunities presented (when this came out in the theatres, you couldn't step inside a store anywhere without some form of tie in for sale). I'd be surprised if the merchandising for the movie didn't surpass the box office receipts and that was probably the reason this movie was made.

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