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Space Jam: 20th Anniversary Steelbook Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Space Jam (1996) movie poster Space Jam

Theatrical Release: November 15, 1996 / Running Time: 87 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Joe Pytka / Writers: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod

Cast: Michael Jordan (Himself), Wayne Knight (Stan Podolak), Theresa Randle (Juanita Jordan), Manner "Mooky" Washington (Jeffrey Jordan), Eric Gordon (Marcus Jordan), Penny Bae Bridges (Jasmine Jordan), Brandon Hammond (Michael Jordan - 10 Years Old), Larry Bird (Larry Bird), Bill Murray (Bill Murray), Thom Barry (James Jordan), Charles Barkley (Himself), Patrick Ewing (Himself), Muggsy Bogues (Himself), Larry Johnson (Himself), Shawn Bradley (Himself), Ahmad Rashad (Himself), Del Harris (Himself), Vlade Divac (Himself), Cedric Ceballos (Himself), Jim Rome (Himself), Paul Westphal (Himself), Danny Ainge (Himself), Bebe Drake (Jordan Housekeeper), Patricia Heaton (Woman Fan), Dan Castellaneta (Male Fan), Alonzo Mourning (Himself), A.C. Green (Himself), Charles Oakley (Himself), Derek Harper (Himself), Jeff Malone (Himself), Anthony Miller (Himself), Sharone Wright (Himself) / Voice Cast: Billy West (Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd), Dee Bradley Baker (Daffy Duck, Tazmanian Devil, Bull), Danny DeVito (Swackhammer), Bob Bergen (Bert, Herbie, Marvin the Martian, Porky Pig, Tweety), Bill Farmer (Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn), June Foray (Granny), Maurice LaMarche (Pepe Le Pew), Kath Soucie (Lola Bunny), Jocelyn Blue (Nerdluck Pound), Charity James (Nerdluck Blanko), June Melby (Nerdluck Bang), Catherine Reitman (Nerdluck Bupkus), Colleen Wainwright (Nerdluck Nawt, Sniffles), Dorian Harewood (Monstar Bupkus), Joey Carmen (Monstar Bang), T.K. Carter (Monstar Nawt), Darnell Suttles (Monstar Pound), Steve Kehala (Monstar Blanko, Announcer), Frank Welker (Charles the Dog)

Buy Space Jam from Amazon.com: 20th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Steelbook Blu-ray 1-Disc DVD 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Instant Video

The Golden State Warriors may have won 73 games last season, breaking a 20-year-old record, but their collapse in the NBA Finals after holding a 3 games to 1 lead seems to take them out of the greatest basketball team ever contention. For me, that title will forever be held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won one fewer game in the regular season but lost six games fewer in the NBA Playoffs en route to the first of another three consecutive championships.
Sure, I was younger then and a devout Bulls fan who had thought the glory days ended when Michael Jordan retired unexpectedly and unforgettably in October 1993. His return in March of 1995 was one of the highlights of my childhood, even if there was rust and Jordan would end up losing a playoff series for only the second (and final) time in the '90s.

Jordan thrived on motivation, though. And the disappointments of his short 1995 season gave him plenty of fuel. But in the summer of '95, Jordan's schedule had one huge commitment more recreational than athletic. It was Space Jam, a feature film that would pair him with the animated characters of Looney Tunes, with whom he had already shared the screen in multiple Nike commercials. Jordan would spend the summer in Burbank making the movie. But when the cameras weren't rolling, he was taking advantage of the gym he insisted that Warner Bros. build for him. He wasn't just doing light shootarounds, either. Word came in to various NBA and college players that MJ was looking for some serious 5-on-5 off-season competition. That he would get and when the NBA season opened mere weeks after production wrapped, Jordan was ready to make history.

Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Tunes for a cosmic high-stakes basketball game in "Space Jam."

That's right. Space Jam, that silly child-oriented '90s movie with the Looney Tunes, Bill Murray, and Newman from "Seinfeld" seems to have laid a crucial and rarely remembered foundation for Jordan and the Bulls' stunning and dominant second Three-Peat. Where is the recognition for that, Basketball Hall of Fame, National Film Registry, etc.?

Fortunately, Space Jam doesn't need that kind of high-profile, serious recognition, because pretty much every kid who grew up with the film loves it. The patent leather Jordan XIs with Concord blue Jumpman. The soundtrack, chockfull of nostalgia-inducing sounds from R. Kelly, Quad City DJs, and an assortment of '90s rap icons. The cameos by NBA players then-present and past, plus the scene-stealing Bill Murray. There are '90s family films that I once enjoyed but I have gone back and failed to see the appeal in, like Free Willy. There are '90s family films that my contemporaries swear by, but leave me underwhelmed, like Hook and Hocus Pocus. But, Space Jam? Space Jam is my jam. Sure, growing up an NBA fan and basketball player made me inclined to like the movie. Having my favorite athlete (Jordan) and favorite actor (Murray) didn't hurt. And even if I've historically preferred Disney to Warner, I've always appreciated animation and continue to do so in adulthood.

Twenty years ago this month, Space Jam opened in theaters. To celebrate the occasion, the film is returning to 450 theaters for three showings on tomorrow and Wednesday, the Space Jam Air Jordan XIs are being reissued, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment revisits the film in a 20th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Steelbook. What a time to be alive!

Bugs Bunny isn't initially threatened by the tiny Nerdlucks looking to capture him.

The film opens in the summer of 1973 when, while shooting hoops after midnight with his father, a 10-year-old Michael Jordan dreams of playing in college and the pros. Then, what is probably the best opening title sequence in the history of cinema -- a lifetime of Jordan photos and highlights set to Quad City DJs' titular theme song -- covers the next twenty years. We then dissolve into a fairly realistic recreation of the shocking press conference at which Jordan announced his first of what would eventually be three retirements from the NBA.
From there, we journey to outer space where a nasty, cigar smoking businessman named Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito) enlists puny alien underlings known as Nerdlucks to get the Looney Tunes to revive his struggling, hellish galactic theme park Moron Mountain.

The Nerdlucks track down Bugs Bunny and friends and try to force them into working Moron Mountain as prisoners. To avoid that, Bugs and the gang challenges the tiny, colorful aliens to a basketball game, which seems like an easy win for them. Needless to say, the Nerdlucks don't play fair. They track down some of the NBA's most uncommon players -- Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, 7'6" Shawn Bradley, and 5'3" Muggsy Bogues -- and then rob them of their talents, leaving them hollow shells of their athletic selves, while transforming themselves into giant Monstars.

The Looney Tunes recruit the most obvious ally they can think of: Michael Jordan, the world's greatest basketball player, who at the moment is struggling as a minor league baseball player. They pull him through the hole of a golf game he's playing with Larry Bird, Bill Murray, and Jordan's fictional assistant Stan (the aforementioned Wayne Knight).

Naturally, the movie sets up one big game -- Monstars vs. Tune Squad -- to determine the fate of the Looney Tunes and later, Jordan himself. It is one of the more entertaining "big games" ever committed to film, as the 'toons defy the laws of physics repeatedly and MJ even joins them in that on one crucial play.

Having stolen the talent of NBA stars, the Monstars pose some out-of-this-world, larger-than-life competition for the Tune Squad.

Unlike most other sports movies, Space Jam isn't out to inspire or do justice to real athletic achievement. Like The Sandlot and Major League, it only wants to treat you to a good time and it succeeds at that again and again, putting a smile on your face that stays there for its spry, gag-filled entirety. The blending of live-action and animation is smooth and inspired. Jordan proves to be unusually charismatic and compelling for a professional athlete trying to act.

The movie knows and loves the Looney Tunes characters. It also knows and loves the NBA of the mid-'90s. And it knows and loves all-ages entertainment. You would need to be devoid of a sense of humor and in possession of a severe disdain for '90s music to not get any amusement out of this spirited and fast-witted joy ride.

Grossing $90 million domestically (the equivalent of $175 M today, when adjusted for inflation) and a then-staggering unadjusted $140 million overseas, Space Jam was a major hit for Warner Bros. But that didn't encourage Jordan or the studio to make a sequel. In recent years, a sequel has been rumored to be in development as a vehicle for LeBron James. If it's anything like its star, it will think it's the greatest, but it won't be as good as the one that came before.

Space Jam: 20th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, German, Italian, Castilian, Spanish, Portuguese),
Dolby Surround 2.0 (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, German, Italian, Castilian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
DVD Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-5)
Steelbook
Still available as Blu-ray ($9.98 SRP; October 4, 2011), 1-Disc DVD ($4.99 SRP; February 8, 2011),
Double Feature DVD with Looney Tunes: Back in Action ($12.98 SRP; June 7, 2016), and Instant Video
Previously released as Two-Disc Special Edition DVD (October 28, 2003) and Fullscreen 1-Disc DVD (March 26, 1997)

 

VIDEO and AUDIO

Space Jam may have reached Blu-ray five years ago, but the transfer still holds up as everything you'd like it to be. The 1.78:1 presentation is sharp, clean, and vibrant. It maintains the look of a '90s film while also hiding any sign that it was released 20 years ago. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is also quite lively, doing a splendid job of distributing both the catchy needle drops and James Newton Howard's appealing score. The Blu-ray piles on the foreign subtitles and dubs options, while the DVD sticks to North America's standard basic three offerings.

Seal's clothes blow in the wind in the music video for his "Fly Like an Eagle" cover. Busta Rhymes is but one of five big time rappers joining forces to perform "Hit 'em High", the Monstars' anthem.

BONUS FEATURES

The main attractions of this edition are the versatility of having three formats in one and the slick new packaging.
The discs themselves are unchanged, the Blu-ray from 2011 and the DVD from the 2-Disc Special Edition released in 2003.

First up is an audio commentary, but not just any audio commentary. Recorded in 2003, it features director Joe Pytka. He comes and goes (entrances and exited announced by the sound of footsteps), leaving the other commentators, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to take over. Billy West and Dee Bradley Baker supply the character voices, putting their improvisational abilities to work as they comment upon what's onscreen. (Elmer Fudd also makes a quick appearance aurally.) More often, they contribute the more serious remark on the creative process in their natural voices. That design is disjointed but it's still an entertaining way to revisit the film if you've seen it many times before.

On the video side, where all is encoded in standard definition, we start with two music videos. Seal's cover of the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" (3:53) places the scarred singer in the clouds and around the dreaming childhood Jordan interspersed with clips from the film.

The video for the Monstars' Anthem "Hit 'Em High" (4:52) lets Coolio, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Method Man, and B-Real (of Cypress Hill) perform in jerseys on a basketball court in black and white footage that is broken up by the occasional clip from the big game. The lyrics and delivery in this song are way better and more memorable than they had any reason to be.

Disappointingly, Warner pulled the music video for R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly", which was included on the film's original 1997 fullscreen-only DVD, shortly after the singer's legal troubles. While he was found not guilty and was able to bounce back professionally, the studio has never gone back and restored his video. Its absence here is unfortunate, as the song remains well-known and liked.

Performers in bright green body suits, later to be replaced by the animated Monstars, come to defend Michael Jordan on the set of "Space Jam." Back when his Jordan brand was not entirely a separate entity, Michael Jordan shows his Nike affiliation in a beret bearing the company's swoosh logo.

"Jammin' with Bugs Bunny & Michael Jordan" (22:32) is a TV-ready making-of featurette from the time of release. It's a throwback to a time when these EPK pieces weren't yet standard inclusions on home video. The promotion is thick in the voiceover, but that sort of adds to the special's goofy appeal. And serious thought is given to various topics, from the Looney Tunes' rich history (a number of clips from Bugs and friends' past cartoons are shared) to the technical task of combining live action and animation, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage to take us inside the production.

Finally, we get the film's theatrical trailer (1:15).

The first platter of what was originally a two-disc set, the DVD only includes the audio commentary and the trailer. Oh, and some DVD-ROM features, supposedly, though you probably won't find them easy to access thirteen years later. Best I could do was load a mostly blank page with the title "Ocean's Eleven."
You don't need the disc to access Warner's official Space Jam website, which is still active and untouched since 1996. (Where's Netscape Navigator when you need it?!) Pay no attention to the "Additional Special Features on Disc 2", unless you want to consider the Blu-ray here Disc 2.

It is worth noting that Space Jam's Two-Disc Special Edition DVD included a number of bonus features that never made it to Blu-ray. The second disc was evidently dropped and the version with it has been out of print for some time. It included the shorts Another Froggy Evening (1995), Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers (1992), Night of the Living Duck (1988), and The Duxorcist (1987), plus the half-hour 1988 television special Bugs vs. Daffy: Battle of the Music Video Stars. Obviously, none of those pertained directly to the movie, but Looney Tunes fans must have appreciated their inclusion. As far as I know, they haven't turned up anywhere else on DVD. And it's an hour of additional entertainment that easily could have fit on these way-under-capacity discs and would have been welcome.

It probably goes without saying that this new release does not hold movie cash for Looney Tunes: Back in Action, as my old Special Edition DVD did.

Space Jam's Blu-ray rocks a predominantly purple menu. From 2003, Space Jam's DVD continues to settle on this basic main menu design.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The most distinctive thing about this release is the new Steelbook packaging. The cover gives us an artful and seemingly rendering of Michael Jordan and animated friends and enemies (Jordan is mustachioed, as he is in most but not all of the film).
Topped by clear plastic, the inside displays another illustration of Jordan looking at the bottle of Michael's Secret Stuff. An insert supplying your Digital HD with UltraViolet code sits across from the two plainly-labeled discs (one mostly black, the other mostly silver). The rear of the case features a Tune Squad cartoon huddle, with an adhesive glob allowing you to sort of keep the cardboard wraparound with credits and disc details attached, should you want to.

It is worth mentioning that Warner has previously paired Space Jam's DVD and Blu-ray with a pack or two of Upper Deck Space Jam trading cards. There is nothing like that found here unfortunately. Seems like it would have been easy added value.

The Blu-ray menu gives us a static view of Jordan and his animated friends while some of James Newton Howard's score plays for a while (before dropping out). The recycled DVD's menu is also static and scored, but it at least follows an animated intro taking you around the galaxy as portrayed in the film. That creative touch is a product of dating back to the format's heyday.

Michael Jordan and teammates welcome some assistance offered by Bill Murray, but Murray's game plan needs some work.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you come to Space Jam as a bigger fan of Looney Tunes than of basketball and Michael Jordan, maybe you'll find it disappointing and dated. If not, though, you should find it to be 87 minutes of joyous nostalgia that is still fun and funny after twenty years.

Warner's 20th Anniversary Steelbook combo pack is simply a repackaging of existing discs, which makes it a bit of a missed opportunity. While those who already own the film on Blu-ray probably won't feel compelled to repurchase it purely for eye-catching shelf presence, this makes for an excellent and low-priced first-time Blu-ray purchase for a movie I would argue no collection is complete without.

Buy Space Jam from Amazon.com:
20th Anniversary Steelbook Combo Pack / Blu-ray / 1-Disc DVD / 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed November 12, 2016.



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