As a tie-in to the upcoming sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy, Warner Bros. has re-issued the 1996 film Space Jam on 4K UHD Blu-ray.
The Production: 3/5
Inspired by the 1993 Nike Super Bowl and MCI commercials featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, Space Jam was Warner Bros. attempt to cash in on both the popularity of those commercials and the animation renaissance that began with Disney’s The Little Mermaid and especially Who Framed Roger Rabbit. What resulted was a mostly forgettable 90-minute commercial and tribute to Jordan, disguised as a Looney Tunes feature film.
Space Jam opens with a young Michael Jordan playing basketball in the middle of the night, awaking his father, and telling him his career aspirations. After a fast-paced highlight reel that doubles as the opening title sequence, Jordan’s retirement press conference is re-created, where Jordan expresses an interest in switching to baseball.
Meanwhile, in outer space, the amusement park Moron Mountain is losing customers, with kids getting bored with the attractions. The owner of the amusement park, Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito), dispatches the Nerdlinks to go to Earth and bring back the Looney Tunes. When Bugs Bunny sees how small the Nerdlinks are, he challenges them to a game of basketball. If the Looney Tunes lose, they will go to Moron Mountain. The Nerdlinks realize they have been swindled, so they steal powers from NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, and Shawn Bradley, turning the Nerdlinks into towering Monstars. Out of fear, Bugs kidnaps Michael Jordan during a game of golf, and successfully convinces him to help the Looney Tunes defeat the Monstars.
Jordan is very good at playing himself, appearing fairly comfortable on-screen with his cartoon co-stars. Wayne Knight does what he did best during the era that this film was made, creating a somewhat likeable loser who just wants to please. And Bill Murray plays himself as an NBA wannabe and friend to Jordan.
The blend of animation and live action is very good, a technological marvel in its day, with Jordan interacting and playing basketball believably with cartoon characters (in reality, he was playing with actors and athletes dressed in green leotards).
Where Space Jam fails is in its comedy and use of the Looney Tunes cast. Many of the gags fall flat, some of the jokes haven’t aged well (Charles Barley’s line during a prayer to get his powers back, “I’ll never date Madonna again” is cringe-inducing), and trying to infuse pop-culture references with the Looney Tunes seem out of place (Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam strike a pose from Pulp Fiction at one point).
3D Rating: NA
Space Jam has to be one of the more perplexing 4K releases I’ve had to review in some time. On the one hand, it is a slight improvement over the 2011 Blu-ray release (included in this set). The 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer, which uses HDR10 high dynamic range and now presents the film in its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio (compared to the full-frame 1.78:1 on the Blu-ray), exhibits improved contrast with deeper blacks and better shadow detail over its Blu-ray counterpart. Colors are also more refined without appearing overly saturated (reds were a major issue on the Blu-ray, over-saturated to the extent they appeared to bleed). However, I could see no real increase in detail over the Blu-ray. There is still an overall softness to the film, almost as if most of the film grain had been scrubbed clean when the 2k digital intermediate was created many years ago (the Blu-ray also suffers from this issue). There is also an issue with the opening Warner Bros. Family Entertainment logo that fades in too bright and then dips back down to the correct exposure. This was not present on the Blu-ray, and I was able to replicate this issue on multiple 4K displays.
This is where the 4K disc shows definite improvement over the Blu-ray’s very good DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with a new Dolby Atmos mix that is nearly reference level, taking advantage of the use of overhead speakers. This is a more immersive mix, with spaceships flying overhead and a real sense of being in the sports arenas with crowd noise reverberating all around. LFE is also stronger, providing a lower end to many of the hip-hop music cues in the film. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.
Special Features: 3/5
Nothing new has been included (not even a trailer for the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy), with all of the special features appearing on the included 2011 Blu-ray edition. The one exception would be the commentary track, which has been included on the 4K disc.
Audio Commentary by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Director Joe Pytka: To be fair, Joe Pytka has very little to say here (he is even introduced each time he speaks by a door opening and footsteps approaching) about the making of the film and provides very little technical tidbits on how the film was made. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (along with their voice counterparts Billy West and Dee Bradley Baker) dominate the track, exchanging quips and wisecracks. Their voice talent do provide some stories on how the movie was made, though.
Seal’s Fly Like An Eagle Music Video (480i; 3:53): The big hit song from the film, Seal’s rendition of the Steve Miller Band classic.
Monstar’s Anthem Hit ‘Em High Music Video (480i; 4:52)
Jammin’ With Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan (480i; 22:32): This promotional piece originally aired on the WB network prior to the film’s release, and covers very little of how the film was made. Oddly, Michael Jordan looks rather uncomfortable in many of the interview clips.
Theatrical Trailer (480i; 1:15): Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) on Movies Anywhere.
Space Jam feels even more like the money grab it was upon its initial release in 1996, and the 4K transfer is not that much of an improvement. The only real reason to upgrade is for the Dolby Atmos track. For true fans only.
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