March 31, 2008

These Things Matter: Welcome to the Jam

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As one of what must only be a handful of people to have seen both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament games in person, I did my fair share of awful plane and car rides over spring break. When you’re on a long trip to or from a basketball game, one topic inevitably comes up again and again: Space Jam. Nothing revives a dying conversation or relieves an awkward pause quite like a passionate Space Jam opnion (and 99% of these opinions will be overwhelmingly positive). After hours of Space Jam deliberation and debate, here is what I am able to assemble as definitive facts about the film …
Space Jam is one of the best films in American cinematic history. At first, what’s obvious is that Space Jam was a landmark moment in the childhoods of the current college generation. Many saw the film multiple times in theaters, myself included. It gets better and better upon each viewing, and is a staple of any legitimate DVD collection. Have I watched Space Jam more than once in the same day? Yes. And I am not alone. More are guilty of this than you would think. Twice in a day actually isn’t so bad, because, though the movie is 88 minutes long, it feels like only 60. My colleagues and I all agreed that the repeated viewings place it in the rarefied air belonging only to Casablanca and The Godfather, and it might even be better than either of those.
There is a lot to unpack in the opening credits. Who gets star billing? Michael Jordan or Bugs Bunny? The Powers That Be came up with the perfect compromise: Jordan gets the first credit line in the movie, but Bugs gets it on the DVD cover. Even more interesting is the placement of the other NBA stars in the credits. Charles Barkley understandably gets his own entry, as he gives an Oscar-worthy performance, but putting Shawn Bradley and Muggsy Bogues before Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson? I understand that this might have been alphabetical, but Ewing and LJ were much better known and much better players.
Bradley and Muggsy were both gimmick guys who barely speak in the movie. Finally, it deserves mention that the producers took a big risk by only showing old Jordan highlights during the credits, potentially losing the interest of the 8-year-olds before the film even starts. Luckily, the highlights are awesome and the credits are probably the best part of the movie.
Space Jam teaches many (questionable?) lessons to kids. For example, the movie seems to almost make the argument that, when your talent is inferior, you should do steroids. Notice that when Bugs provides the Tune Squad with “Michael’s secret stuff,” the team is more than happy to drink the mysterious clear liquid — it turns out to just be water, but that’s neither here nor there.
Another lesson is that you should always cheat in order to make friends with a famous person, like when the minor-league catcher tells Jordan what pitches to expect. Space Jam would also have you believe that outer space is inhabited by animated aliens, while on Earth the animated characters only exist underground — a dubious claim. The Looney Tunes are also American citizens, despite their below-Earth homeland. These are all fascinating lessons to be teaching the children of America.
The collection of songs and artists in Space Jam is amazing. When you think Space Jam , you immediately think R. Kelly, which, back in 1996 when the film was first released, wasn’t a bad thing, since he hadn’t urinated on anyone yet (we think). “I Believe I Can Fly” is one of the best songs ever and provokes a sing-along amongst the entire audience when it comes on in the movie. Every. Single. Time. I’ve never found a more inspirational song.
The song accompanying the Jordan highlights in the opening credits is a gem from the Quad City D.J.’s, shockingly titled “Space Jam .” Most music critics thought it would be impossible for the D.J.’s to follow up for their smash hit, “C’Mon N’ Ride It (The Train),” but “Space Jam” does the job.
The end credits also provide a treat: a cover-version of “Fly Like an Eagle,” performed by living-legend and all-around badass Seal. But most importantly, the Monstars’ Anthem, “Hit ‘Em High,” features perhaps the greatest assembling of rap talent ever recorded. What else but Space Jam could convince Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Method Man, Coolio and B. Real to combine forces? For those of you who like rap, and even those who don’t, listening to this song is kind of like going to see Mozart in concert 200 years ago, only better.
I hope Space Jam has affected all of your lives as much as it has affected mine. I encourage all of you reading to take some time today and ponder Space Jam’s influence on your life. Share your stories with each other, and with me.