[Fresh on 4K] Original ‘SPACE JAM’ gets a UHD spit shine that hardly improves its silly narrative

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

SPACE JAM (1996)

Rated PG,
Director: Joe Pytka
Cast: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, Bill Murray, Billy West (voice), Dee Bradley Baker (voice), Bob Bergen (voice), Bill Farmer (voice), Kath Soucie (voice), Maurice LaMarche (voice), June Foray (voice), and Danny DeVito (voice)

Now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.

Allow me to paint you a picture. 

The year is 1996. The Nintendo 64 game console has just hit store shelves. Prince Charles and Princess Diana have officially finalized their divorce. And some (presumably) out of his mind Hollywood executive has inexplicably managed to get the green light on a movie where Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny play basketball for 88 minutes. Also, Bill Murray is there. 

SPACE JAM has no right to exist by all accounts, but it does, and it’s even getting a sequel 25 years later. So, to get audiences excited for the second outing, Warner Bros. has released the SPACE JAM on 4K UHD.

Movie Grade: C

The film interestingly starts off feeling like a biopic for legendary basketball player Michael Jordan. The camera slowly cranes down from a starry night sky to show a young MJ (Brandon Hammond) shooting hoops in his backyard, whimsically telling his father about all the great things he’ll accomplish with his life with his natural talent for the game. It’s a sweet moment, if not a little corny, but most importantly, it’s a scene that takes its time. 

The same cannot be said for the rest of the film. After an admittedly catchy theme song set under a montage of iconic moments from Jordan’s career, the film quickly cuts to a press conference where he’s already announcing his retirement from basketball and moving on to baseball instead. 

Before we know it, the film moves on to a fully animated world where an amusement park in space finds itself in need of new attractions. Danny DeVito voices the villainous Swackhammer, who sends his alien minions to kidnap the Looney Tunes (yes) and force them into slave labor. 

Bugs Bunny (Billy West) takes note of the aliens’ small stature and convinces them to play in a game of basketball for a chance to win their freedom. The game should be a piece of cake, but the aliens then travel to an NBA game to steal the talent away from real-life players such as Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson. With this stolen talent, the aliens become massive in size and completely dwarf the Looney Tunes, who then decide to kidnap Michael Jordan and convince him to come out of retirement for one last game. 

The story for this film is completely insane, and it only works so well because the film couldn’t be more aware of how ridiculous it is. The acting from the NBA who play themselves is painfully wooden, but the audience is willing to let it slide because nobody expects them to be good actors. Bill Murray shows up as himself in the final act, and straight-up acknowledges that he’s in a movie when Daffy Duck (Dee Bradley Baker) asks him how he even got there. 

SPACE JAM is a nostalgic anomaly at its best and a soulless commercial for the 1990s at its worst. Its massive reliance on real-life NBA superstars for its B plot hasn’t aged especially well for anyone who didn’t follow ’90s basketball. While the Looney Tunes’ gags occasionally stick the landing, they come off as painfully phoned in more often than not. For adults who grew up when Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny were household names, this movie just makes sense. Everyone else should try their best to view it as a product of its time if they want to enjoy themselves even a little bit.

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Video/Audio Grade: B

SPACE JAM is remarkably presented in a native 4K resolution. Similar to the recent 4K release of WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, this film is also presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than the 1.77:1 ratio of previous home releases. That alone should get film purists excited, and it shows that Warner Bros. is committed to giving audiences something new with these re-releases. 

The visual clarity can be somewhat of a mixed bag, however. Live-action footage looks about as crisp and clear as one would have come to expect at this point with the 4K UHD format and the added details are a welcome improvement. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the animated sections of the film. The hand-drawn aesthetic looks perfectly fine on its own, but things truly start to fall apart when mixed with live-action elements. It could be argued that seeing Michael Jordan awkwardly interact with animated characters never was supposed to look all that believable in the first place. Still, the increased resolution only makes the uncanny valley between the two formats all the more obvious.

The inclusion of HDR10 is definitely a highlight of this release. The colorful world of Looney Tune Land is made all the more colorful, and the darker live-action scenes are much easier to see than in previous releases. Some instances of crushed blacks and blues are especially noticeable when Bugs and Daffy visit Michael Jordan’s home and meet his vicious dog, Charles. 

The new Dolby Atmos audio track is certainly a fun improvement over the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track from the 2011 Blu-ray release. It is most enjoyable during the actual basketball game in the film’s third act and the opening theme song sequence.

Extras Grade: C

Aside from the commentary track, there are no special features included on the 4K disc. All features are on the included 1080p Blu-ray, which is a duplicate from the 2011 Blu-ray release. This means there will be nothing new in the extras department for second-time buyers. 

Complete Special Features are listed below:

  • Audio Commentary 
  • “Fly Like an Eagle” (3:53)
  • “Hit ‘Em High” (4:52)
  • “Jammin’ with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan” (22:32) 
  • A Theatrical Trailer (1:15)

Final Grade: C+

While the increased clarity sometimes does more harm than good for the visual effects, and the HDR10 can occasionally miss its mark, the original aspect ratio and new Dolby Atmos audio track more than make up for the shortcomings of this release. As for the movie itself, those who grew up with it already know what they’re getting into. Everyone else may be better off keeping this one as a rental. 

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