the trailer for Space Jam: a new legacy highlights the dark horror that drives too much Hollywood right now and, frankly, too much capitalism right now.
The next film, following mediocre 1996 Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes characters play basketball who is much loved by some (for whatever reason), LeBron James shines in the Looney Tune world, where he becomes a cartoon. To save his son, who has been kidnapped by the ruler of something called the Serververse, the superstar must win a basketball game against the Goon Squad. Jamess’ teammates are, of course, the Looney Tunes.
But what is important about Space Jam 2 is not the attempt to riff on the premises of the first films. No, what is important is what exists in the Serververse. At the start of the trailer, as James flies through said Serververse, he passes two planets marked with visual iconography clearly indicating that they represent Game Of Thrones and The Wizard of Oz, two properties owned by WarnerMedia, the parent company of Warner Bros., which produces Space Jam: a new legacy. the Game Of Thrones Planet is even usefully labeled Game of Thrones.
But that brief moment has nothing on one that presumably teases the film’s climax, when various WarnerMedias reps from numerous corporate affiliates show up at the big game. The Iron Giant, King Kong, and Fred Flintstone all appear, and eagle-eyed viewers have caught a glimpse of everyone from the sneering Sec or A clockwork orange to Danny DeVitos and Burgess Merediths takes the villain of Batman The Penguin among the spectators of the games. (There is far away, many more easter eggs that the detectives in the trailer picked up, but the ones I’ve listed here are a representative sample.)
Such a vast and random handful of characters that you may already know can make it seem like a giant corporation is simply throwing up every bit of intellectual property it has ever devoured. But when you look at other great movies that have done something similar over the past few years, notably Warner Bros. Player One loan and Disneys Ralph breaks the internet what seems to be happening with Space Jam 2 becomes much harder to separate from the trend that the richest of the rich have to show off all their toys in the hope that onlookers will be impressed.
If you grew up in a city or neighborhood like the one I grew up small and cloistered in, you probably knew a wealthy person or two and flaunted it by collecting something. In my town, the displays usually took the form of guns or cars, but it’s easy to think of wealthy people who, for example, buy a lot of artwork. The impulse to collect can begin with an appreciation, a love of antique guns, cool cars or avant-garde sculptures. But it’s so, so easy for that impulse to become about ownership, to have something that no one else can.
I am not giving up in this regard. I spent much of my adulthood amassing a BluRay collection that is perhaps a little too comprehensive and increasingly filled with movies that I haven’t watched but love to have on my shelf for. vague status reasons. Showing beautiful things is a human impulse on one level.
But forgiving giant corporations for behavior that we could condone in just one human being is rarely a good idea. Movies like Space Jam: a new legacy seem to exist only to show all the movies and TV shows owned by the company that produces them, and often belittle the story in the name of piling up more cameos.
From a marketing perspective, it makes sense that Space Jam: a new legacy could feature all WarnerMedia characters known to mankind. After all, the movie will debut simultaneously in theaters and on the company’s flagship streaming service, HBO Max, and if you’re really excited to watch it. Game Of Thrones after seeing its logo float on a planet in Space Jam 2, it’ll just wait there for you to broadcast. The movie wasn’t always going to debut on HBO Max, but it would always come at a time when the studio that made it would try to attract new subscribers to its streaming service. What better way to do this than to advertise all of its many properties in one movie?
So many conglomerate-owned streaming services, after all, have advertised themselves based on their massive catalogs filled with titles and characters you may already know, like when HBO Max announced its launch with the tagline. Where Bada meets Bing meets Bang, under photos of The Sopranos Tony Soprano, Friends Chandler Bing, and The Big Bang Theorys Sheldon Cooper. Meanwhile, the NBCUniversals Peacock service has widely touted its ads as an argument for subscribing to Peacock just for you to watch. Office, because this series is so loved.
But when does that impulse to show off all the properties a business possesses go from a nostalgia-fueled mashup to a brutal capitalist chest beat? The answer is probably it’s always been brutal and capitalistic, but even if we were going to downsize these businesses a bit, there is something kinky about creating new stories that exist primarily to brag about the number of older stories. that you own.
And sometimes these companies don’t clean the old stories! The Wizard of Oz, for example, is in the public domain. Anyone who wants to write stories involving Dorothy, Scarecrow and everything in between can do so however they see fit. But WarnerMedia has the most famous film version of The Wizard of Oz and, as such, does his best to act like his version of Oz is the only one that can exist.
Wow, it’s all built around nostalgia now, eh? This is not exactly a new observation to be made in 2021, when everything is well built around nostalgia. Space jam itself was a blatant game to make the Looney Tunes gang relevant to a new generation, so much the better for selling merchandise, so it’s not like a classic is tainted. And while the 1996 film wasn’t the very first attempt by a studio to extract money from beloved characters by forcing them into new contexts, what is Mickey Mouse if not a sponge that Disney snatches money every now and then? it certainly wasn’t a big harbinger of things to come, as my colleague Alissa Wilkinson wrote in 2020:
This Space jam is a bald (and I don’t really mean that pejoratively) commercial capture based on existing entertainment properties, the Looney Tunes, the NBA, Michael Jordan himself feels almost visionary. The film is aware of this. His characters constantly joke about the endorsements; at one point, Daffy Duck is literally kissing a Warner Bros. logo. on his own buttocks.
I am under no illusions that there is a good way to stop the gradual transformation of every studio catalog into the equivalent of the video game. Super Smash Bros., where all your Nintendo favorites from different franchises battle against each other. But there’s something abhorrent about a person who still wants to show off all their toys, isn’t there?
WarnerMedia is not the only company to offer this type of wholesale corporate proselytizing. What a scene looks like this one, from the 2018 Disney movie Ralph breaks the internet, add to the story of the film or themes or arcs of characters? It’s just a bunch of cameos, apparently functioning as an ad for Disney itself. Some of his gags are quite funny, but the whole scene ultimately seems more than a little creepy in its rudeness.
I don’t exactly tremble with anticipation for a new one Space jam film, but its filmmakers (which include the highly talented director Malcolm D. Lee, who has directed terribly observed small-scale comedies like The best man and Girls trip; producer Ryan Coogler of Black Panther and Creed Fame; and co-writer Terence Nance, whose television series Random acts of theft was a delight) deserve to have their movie function as something other than a gadget or museum. As it is, it is easy to watch the Space Jam 2 trailer and you feel like you’re walking through a long gallery, with Bugs Bunny as a docent, as he periodically stops to say: Watch this whole thing. We own it, and you don’t.
Then he nibbled on a carrot and said, What’s up, Doc, because he’s corporate owned too, and his owners have reduced his character to a slogan. What a time to live.
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