Space Jam: A New Legacy

Space Jam: A New Legacy ½

I remember watching Space Jam over and over as a kid. Specifically the image of Michael Jordan being pulled in Tune Land. I watched that over and over again. I dunno why. I've had a lifelong obsession with portal fantasy, I guess.

I know it's a bad movie. In truth, I've always known. Still, the appeal of the premise was undeniable to me and it starts with that image of Michael Jordan getting pulled into fuckin' Looney Tunes. The idea of Tune Land being a physical space that could be traveled to somehow was the big thing.

The idea that toons really existed somehow drove me crazy. I hoped and to some extent believed that it was possible at such a young age. That there's a world of cartoonish impossibility somewhere under your feet? That was magical to me, that was defining for me.

Now I know it wasn't a good movie. I know it was as cynical as a product can be and by God, it was a product, do not get me wrong. With regards to intent, Space Jam and its sequel are identical; they exist to serve ancillary products. They exist to trigger nostalgia in the viewer, a nostalgia which sells merchandise and celebrity and cartoons.

Going even further back, this is how the original cartoons were treated.

Looney Tunes films were intended to be disposable; in fact, all cartoons were intended to be shown before film screenings, just as forgotten as the movies that screened after them. But, thankfully, they exist here with us today!

We get to cherish the work of Ted Pierce and Michael Maltese and Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin and Chuck Jones. We get to see the love and care they put into these cartoons that they believed would be forgotten and let it inspire us and make us laugh. That's a miracle! But… it comes at a cost.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is that ultimate cost and the difference between the film and its 1996 predecessor--how things have changed since the original film--comes in the form of how the central premise has been altered significantly to allow for the cavalcade of intellectual property intended not only to sell Looney Tunes or the film's starring athlete but the entire history of Warner Brothers as a studio and the streaming service for which most of the "content" appearing in the film happens to be streaming; HBO Max.

In the original film, Michael Jordan gets pulled down into a hole by Bugs Bunny and shot down into Tune Land via a tunnel that ends in the Warner Brothers logo at the time. It's very stupid but what's important here is that this is pretty much unexplained. Looney Tunes is real and a big hole leads to the Looney Tunes universe. That's it. It's funny and it's simple and it's in-keeping with said universe.

A New Legacy cans this by making Tune World part of a vast "serververse" which houses the many universes of seemingly everything Warner Brothers (and by extension New Line Cinema and HBO) Studios has ever produced and/or distributed. The Looney Tunes universe is no longer "real" but a digital replication which serves exclusively to be consumed.

Now, "Songbird," you may say, "Space Jam '96 had the toons performing their greatest hits endlessly for cable" and to that I say… you'd be correct. But the point is that they don't seem to have been made solely for this purpose. They're still individuals who have tangible relationships with each other outside of other people's consumption of their antics. The implications of all this are still distressing but not as distressing as A New Legacy's.

Because even if it is true that Space Jam '96's toons exist solely to serve as content, this implication, for obvious reasons, never extended to the entirety of Warner's output. It never implied that all of these works from Casablanca to The Devils to The Matrix to Fury Road (works that spoke on the horrors of fascism, misogyny, and corruption, mind you; works that make statements) exist solely to serve as content, as fodder for a streaming service. A New Legacy makes clear exactly how the execs at Warner see the entire history of the studio; with dollar signs in their eyes like Daffy Duck himself.

Allow me to make a brief diversion; Malcolm Le Grice's Berlin Horse is a short form experimental film from 1970 lasting approximately 7 minutes. Its central premise surrounds footage of two separate horses from different stock footage being manipulated to such extremes that it becomes a nightmare; a horse gallops in circles inside of a stable, the image transforming fluidly whilst dissolving into a near-seamless repetition of itself over and over again.

This footage is then edited together with a second horse being guided out of a burning building by presumably its master. By this point, both horses had been long dead but through the power of cinema, their image lives on forever in a horrific obfuscation; two horses become one horse across two chapters, this one horse locked in a horrendous loop set to monotonous droning ambient sounds by Brian Eno.

The horse is dead but its ghost lives! It lives in perpetuity; it lives forever, possibly infinitely! An infinite torture for an animal which never consented to having its likeness recorded and preserved in said perpetuity. It runs in its stable forever whilst its originator's bones are lost to time.

Stepping back to the subject of A New Legacy, this Le Grice film is what I think of when I think back on it, played to an absolutely grotesque scale; over a century of cinematic history reduced to content, its creators long dead.

As I watched the third act, I imagined the creatives behind the works occupying the stands watching this movie in a theater; I imagined Ernest B. Schoedsack and Michael Curtiz and Robert Aldrich and Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell and Joel Schumacher, I imagined Tex Avery and Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, I imagine all of the long passed artists who genuinely gave a fuck about everything they did sitting together in this theater and watching their work not just callously abused for commerce--that has always happened over the course of cinema--but melted down like wax figures and reshaped into a garish semi-humanoid shape that somewhat resembles the work they helped create but only in its image.

I imagine, at best, confusion and at worse, disgust.

Finally, I imagine a question; is this what it means to live forever in the world of capitalism? To not have your work be cherished but consumed ad infinitum without any love or care? To grind out work that will never really go away only to be uncredited like character designer Dave Alvarez on A New Legacy?

To my knowledge, original director Terrence Nance pitched a much more cynical take on the base premise of the film, a satire on the very nature of the final movie, effectively becoming a satirical ouroboros when Nance and Warner Brothers parted ways due to creative differences. Malcolm D. Lee was brought aboard with no pre-production time and had not even seen Space Jam '96; he never even had the opportunity to have an original thought for the film.

Even Ready Player One was born out of passion, however revolting that work's own implications are.

This is the closest film I imagine we'll ever see to being completely directed by studio executives. It is the clearest look inside the thought process of studio executives I've ever seen. Of course a major character artist went uncredited on the film; those who made this movie what it is have never once thought about who made the works they're profiting off of. They don't care. They see intellectual property. To quote Guillermo Del Toro in an interview with Lauren Wilford for Bright Wall/Dark Room:

"Two words have come into the cultural discourse that are profoundly scary. And we use them, I catch myself using them—but they are scary. One is pipeline, and the other is content. Because that’s the speed of consumption now; it goes by. It goes by like oil, like water, like sewage. It’s pipeline and content."

Studio executives see cinema--as always but especially now--as sewage which makes them profit. I agree with del Toro; it is profoundly scary.

The rabbit is dead! His ghost lives. Forever.

Songbird liked these reviews

All