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Space Jam: A New Legacy

"I found myself gazing at the screen in awe"

★★★½ - STUFF 

- A magical, charming love-letter to the movies - 

Once in a while, at a bar or a barbecue, some excitable young person will find out what I do for a job and launch into their impassioned theory about how going to the movies is actually an evocation of an ancient time, when humans sat around a camp fire and listened through the flames, as the tribe's storyteller wove their magic and transported them away to other places and wonderful deeds.

And I will smile and nod and go through the pantomime of agreement, happy to remember that I'd be fooling no-one if I didn't admit that I used to be that young person.

And besides, they may even be right. The voice telling us a story from the other side of the fire is as good a metaphor as we will ever need for the pull of – not just movies – but also TV and video games. 

And so, a film set inside another film, or even inside a video game, becomes something especially magical, as they push through the fire and make the storyteller a part of the story. And that is where Space Jam comes in.

Space Jam, in 1996, was a movie execs' fantasy come true. With a story about a basketball player taken into a parallel world of the movies, it combined the unrepeatable star-wattage and merchandising power of Michael Jordan – whose branded shoes, kids were literally being murdered for – with the chance to re-energise Warner Brothers’ ancient stable of cartoon characters and make them bankable for a new generation. The film was a box-office smash that remains a nostalgic favourite today for a generation who grew up with a VHS of Space Jam always at the ready on a Saturday morning when Mum and/or Dad just needed to, err, sleep in.

Space Jam: A New Legacy might earn its own cult following, but probably not. The plot is too closely a retread of the original, with LeBron James – although he is terrific – in place of Jordan. But without the magic of being “the first”, I don't think we'll still be sighing over A New Legacy in 25 years time.

And yet, I kind of loved this film. I liked its essential message of “just let your kids be a decent version of themselves” at its heart - and that, by the end, being a computer programmer turns out to be just as cool as being a sports star. I liked the inclusivity, and how WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Diana Taurasi are on the court this time, alongside the NBA's Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis.

But more than anything, I think what got me about A New Legacy was the unexpected breadth and ambition of its making. With the incredible Warners, New Line and DC history to draw on – everything from classic Looney Tunes, to King KongThe Iron GiantCasablanca and The Matrix – director Malcolm D Lee and his phalanx of writers do more than just fill out the backgrounds here. There is a very real sense that Space Jam: A New Legacy is a love-letter to the movies and to the people who make them.

So even if the film isn't always great – it badly needs to be cut by about 15 minutes, most of which could come from the opening scenes – I still found myself gazing at the screen, at times, in awe of the skill and aroha it takes to make a film – and of the history of film itself. All of which Malcolm D Lee works very hard to evoke.

So, here's to you, Space Jam: A New Legacy. I don't think you're a classic, and you won't be troubling my Top Ten of the year. But, for a few moments there, I was happy to peer through the flicker and the smoke and to remember just what a magical, human experience it can be, to go to a movie – and to be told a story.

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF 

Space Jam: A New Legacy is now playing at Light House Petone and Pauatahanui! 

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