Business As Usual On Moron Mountain: An Excerpt From Miles Wray's "Space Jam" Ebook

On commerce, creativity, and why it's a stupid idea to build an amusement park around Bugs Bunny. An excerpt from the ebook "Here's Your Chance, Do Your Dance."
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Friend of the program and our "Off The Bat" head-recapper in charge Miles Wray has embarked on the sort of project that would drive a lesser human mad. He has written a 10,000-word ebook on the canonic Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny vehicle Space Jam. This is an excerpt of it; you can get your copy for the low, low price of $2 (or $10 if you want to go deluxe) at Miles' IndieGoGo page.

Writing in the pages of Grantland, Zach Lowe crafted a review of Space Jam that was, shall we say, not favorable. Mr. Lowe went as far to say that Space Jam is, despite all immediately obvious appearances to the contrary, actually not a work of cinema at all. In Mr. Lowe’s precise words: “This is not a movie.”

In an effort to prove that Space Jam is not a movie, Lowe imagines the hypothetical conversation that transpired between leather-tanned producers over what one would presume to be a cocktail-heavy Hollywood lunch:

Look, we’ve locked in Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. That’s gold! Just crank out five pages of whatever story comes to mind first -- maybe some intergalactic amusement-park troll steals the talent of NBA stars, I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here -- and shoot this damn thing. Every kid in America will force their parents into paying to watch this.

To this cinema critic’s knowledge, there exists no reliable primary source documenting Space Jam’s moment of origin with which we can either prove or invalidate Lowe’s imagined meeting. I ask my fellow Space Jam scholars to indulge my own speculative analysis here, wherein I propose that: Mr. Lowe’s vision of the embryonic stages of Space Jam is probably authentic in spirit, if not also accurate in terms of direct quotation. A movie that is a “movie,” Mr. Lowe implies, is the result of creative and artistic toil and experimentation above and beyond the somewhat-buzzed, shot-from-the-hip blabberings of a cigar-waving Hollywood troll who is about ready to call it a day now that it is nearly 2pm.    

I shall now attempt to refute Mr. Lowe’s assertion that Space Jam is not a movie. I propose that there are inherent and important similarities between Space Jam and a Rorschach inkblot test. A patient’s answers to a Rorschach test are not premeditated, planned, or “thoughtful,” at least in any conventional way. A Rorschach test is like a net that sweeps just below the surface of the mind to grab whatever fishes/thoughts happen to be swimming there. This is the value of the Rorschach test: by eliminating a person’s internal “gatekeeper,” who so loves to refine and/or conceal an individual’s thoughts, there is immediate, raw honesty.

So it is with Space Jam. By eliminating those conventional movie-making systems that “refine” and “polish” and “write second drafts” of screenplays, what Space Jam delivers is a vision of the world that is not gussied up with heavy-handed symbolism, nor populated with fictionalized aesthetic beauties, nor prone to bend reality to honor a certain political viewpoint. There is only an immediate impression of the values and principles of American society, circa 1996, as interpreted by that hairy-chested, tracksuit-wearing producer. As cave paintings and pottery shards are relentlessly examined by anthropologists in hopes of attaining a peek into the interior lives of the inhabitants of previous cultures, Space Jam provides not just that glimpse but 88 full-color minutes of insight into the interior mind of 1996. Thus, not only is Space Jam a movie, it is practically a documentary of the imagination.

***

Space Jam is about the honor and valor that comes with the full pursuit of a dream. I could see this when I was six, watching the movie for the first time, when I wanted nothing more than to fly like, yes, an eagle, and send hellacious dunks endlessly home. Now that I have grown into full-fledged adulthood, I can also see that Space Jam unflinchingly prepares its young viewers for entry into that adult world by pitting those dreams against the grinding gears of commerce. Dreams v. Commerce is the dominating central plot of Space Jam and, well, it’s too short a movie to really develop any subplots.

Commerce, marketing, and branding are unavoidable in the alternate universe of Space Jam. The plot’s inciting incident comes from within the mind of the massive, slimy, green-skinned entrepreneur Mr. Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito). Mr. Swackhammer is the owner-proprietor of the grimy, second-rate theme park Moron Mountain, which is located on a piece of ashy flotsam floating near Earth in outer space. While noticing his customers’ dissatisfaction on his (invasive) closed-circuit camera system, Mr. Swackhammer proclaims -- in front of his five worm-like assistants/underlings, but mostly to himself -- that superior attractions must be designed so that customer satisfaction, and thus profits, improve. The first idea in the following brainstorming session is the one that Mr. Swackhammer decides to run with: the capture and lifelong enslavery of the cast of the Looney Tunes, which would enable Moron Mountain to secure by force the bounty of that much-more-beloved brand.

This is a dramatic departure from the usual antagonist’s motives in cinema that is intended for children. If Space Jam were a conventional movie with a conventional antagonist, then that antagonist would incite the plot with their boundless, often-sociopathic aspirations to rule The Kingdom, or, just as likely, The World. Think of Syndrome’s desires to institute anarchy in The Incredibles, or Scar’s back-room conniving in The Lion King, or Hopper’s colonization-by-force in A Bug’s Life. If seizing political power is the tradition in children’s movies, then Mr. Swackhammer’s relatively modest aim of achieving incrementally improving quarterly gains means that the paradigm has been dramatically shifted indeed.

What’s more, the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal of most PG-villains is their access to vast resources (Syndrome’s jungle-hidden lair of advanced robotics) and/or muscle (Hopper’s gang of intimidatingly large grasshoppers). But Mr. Swackhammer’s most insidious trait is in fact his sheer incompetence. Even most of Space Jam’s prepubescent audience (several of whom, like myself, were about to get hooked on the awesome amusement-park-construction computer game Roller Coaster Tycoon) could see that the much more cost-effective solution would be to spruce up Moron Mountain with a direly needed name change and some jazzier lighting.

And then one must consider that a display involving the enslaved Looney Tunes would clearly bring minimal returns after an initial wave of consumer curiosity. For the Looney Tunes, their expansive freedom -- untouched forests for Bugs Bunny to romp around, vast Southwestern vistas for the Roadrunner to zoom through -- is absolutely essential to their commercial attraction. Restrict the Looney Tunes to a zoo-like display and they are just a sad, raggedy troupe of farm animals, their earning leverage limited to practically zilch.

That’s why Mr. Swackhammer is such a dangerous man/creature. Even if his plan works, hitch-less, his dilemma will not be solved and he will surely turn to ever-more-depraved measures in search of a solution. There is no possible other interpretation of this element in the fabric of Space Jam other than: this movie, which is a movie, is a cautionary tale to gently prepare a young audience for the foolhardy, misguided, powerful Bosses that will somehow and in some way inevitably-- no matter one’s level of talent or purity of heart -- loom as an antagonist in one’s own life.


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