Luke Owen takes you back to the past…
It’s amazing to think that Space Jam, the movie which saw Michael Jordan play basketball with Bugs Bunny, turns twenty years old today. What do you remember the most about it? The barrage of ‘making of’ features than ran on every movie show? The fantastic soundtrack featuring 1996’s hottest artists (and R Kelly)? Or is it the office Space Jam website, where eager kids could go and find more information about the upcoming movie via the magical and mystical information super highway, the world wide web?
Well, that website is still live and active. No, really. Check it out here.
It’s an incredible time capsule of how the Internet used to look twenty years ago. Back then, this would have been incredible to look at and view. And I should know, I was there. I visited this website when I first got the Internet at home in 1997, and was blown away with how much information and content I could get my hands on. There was pictures, posters, screensavers and samples of each song from the soundtrack. There was even voice clips from the movie, which I used to replace the standard Windows 95 shut down sound.
So let’s celebrate the anniversary of Space Jam by revisiting the website. Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now.
You’re greeted with a black background covered in stars, as if you’ve been teleported into outer space. There in the middle is the Space Jam logo, which is surrounded by planets that act as gateways to each section of the website. They all have their own unique and quirky names, and it recalls a simpler time in website design where it seemed nothing could top the intricacies of Angelfire and Yahoo.
The first place to click is Jam Central, which gives you information about the production and the people behind it. “You’ve made it: Jam Central Station, the central depository for all things Space Jam,” the page reads. “From the best seats in the house, you can peruse the production notes, find out about the filmmakers, check out the theatrical trailer, and look at a bunch of photos from the film.” And they’re not wrong. Clicking into the Production Notes gives a fabulous pitch (“As audiences visually zoom between Earth and outer space, between basketball court, baseball field and Looney Tunes Land, from live action with some of the NBA’s biggest stars to startlingly rich two- and three-dimensional animation, they’ll get a laugh-loaded glimpse of the future as it’s never looked before — in the company of basketball’s most watchable genius and the hip-hoppin’-est hoopster a rabbit ever hoped to become”) and synopsis, but it also has an incredibly detailed production history. From the film’s inception all the way through to the filming and animation. I can honestly recommend people go and check it out, but perhaps copy and paste the text into word so you’re not looking at the purple background with basketballs.
Clicking back to Jam Central via the left-hand navigation (which in true 1996 Internet is its open separate frame), you can read more about the filmmakers and download the trailer to be watched with Quicktime (“The jamminest two minutes of trailer time that ever hit a theater. It’s 7.5 megs, it’s Quicktime, and it’s worth it.”). Clicking the graphic still downloads the trailer, as do the icons to download 20 second clips of Ivan Reitman talking about Michael Jordan, and Jordan himself talking about the film’s genre. All videos boast dreadful resolution. As are the ‘Internet quality’ photos you can right click and save.(Actual size)
Moving into Behind the Jam, we’re greeted with a black background with bright shining stars, giving us the illumination we’re stepping behind the curtains of Hollywood. “Go behind the scenes of one of the most high-tech, high-concept, high-flying films ever made,” the website boasts. “See the early sketches of all-new animated characters! Learn how megastar Michael Jordan got a big kiss from classic wisecracking hero Bugs Bunny! Watch as Michael Jordan plays basketball against many strange men in green suits and facemasks — who never appear in the film!” That video, by the way, is also still available (around 800MB each, Quicktime of course). You can see sketches of the MonStars and the other Looney Tunes (although I’m sure most of the images can be found in Jam Central), but the most interesting thing is the Tech Notes, where someone named Bill Warren talks us through all the technical aspects of the film. In all of its glory. A quick Google of Warren’s name and Space Jam returns this page, as if it’s the only thing about him to ever exist online.
But all this technical information and production history stuff is boring. We’re kids! We want fun! And fun you’ll find in Junior Jam, a section with a disgustingly bright green background, littered with white and yellow stars. Here you can find out more information about the characters, more pictures (again doubling information found in Jam Central and Behind the Jam) and a colouring book. “Since you probably know how to use the computer better than Mommy or Daddy, use their printer to print these simple black and white pictures of the cartoon characters from Space Jam, and color them in yourself,” the website instructs. I did just that, and I had a great time. You can also learn how to play basketball with tips from Jesse R. Williams, longtime coach and community leader afilliated with the National Pro-Am City Leagues Association (I had to stretch my eyes to read this black text against the bright green background).
And the fun doesn’t stop there! A quick click into The Lineup may make you think you’re getting more boring information about characters (and I mean every character), there’s a spinning green button that reads ‘games’. Click that, and you get a gaudy red background made of up grinning monsters with a quiz in classic Times New Roman. “Bet you never saw the missing episode where the Coyote caught the Road Runner and ate him. Nah, just kidding. Never happened,” the website kids. “But here you can test your knowledge of all things Looney with Space Jam’s Official Looney Tunes Trivia Quiz.” Most of the questions are pretty simple, but disappointingly there’s no punishment for a wrong answer. You simply get promoted to click back and try again. I answered all three incorrect answers before I got the question right in one example.
Heading into Lunar Tunes, and you can find every radio station that will be playing Seal’s Fly Like an Eagle from the Space Jam soundtrack. It also offers a prompt to, “Check back here for an up-to-date list of where to listen when you’re off-line.” A quick scan of this page suggests this was never updated. Disappointingly, the page Space Jam Arena cannot be clicked (I don’t think it was ever deeplinked), but that doesn’t matter too much as you can get short clips from the Space Jam soundtrack, featuring Coolio, Salt-N-Pepa and Quad City DJs. At least, you’d think you could. Of course I instantly clicked on my favourite track from the album (Hit ‘em High by an all-star line-up including Busta Rhymes, B-Real and Method Man), but the links doesn’t work. For the first time in my epic journey across this site, I have found two dead links. I tried some of the other links and got the same issue. A shame. My guess would be that Atlantic Records, who released the soundtrack, no longer have the files stored.
But I know what you all came here for – that’s right, the screen savers, wallpapers and icons. Well you can find everything you need in the Stellar Souvenirs. Thankfully, they’re all still here and available for downloading. Even the sound clips (each lasting around two seconds each) are intact. In a more curious curiosity, there is a section in Stellar Souvenirs to send an electronic postcard. Sadly I can’t find out any more information on these, as it looks like the WB Post Office (complete with repeating Taz gif) is closed. Still, I’m sure they delighted a few AOL inboxes.
There’s another section of the site about the history of the NBA with player bios, but I was more drawn to another spinning games button. Clicking this automatically downloaded shoot.dcr (which I can’t install) and I no longer have the Shockwave plugin needed to play the game. From what I can gather from the dark blue text against a green background, you would control Bug’s hand to shoot baskets by clicking it or pressing return. Inspired.
As was customary on any website in the early days of the world wide web, Space Jam comes with a sitemap to help you navigate the site easily. There’s also a Press Box Shuttle page, but it’s empty. You can also visit the Warner Bros Store, but that automatically links you to the current and up to date store which, sadly, doesn’t have a lot of Space Jam merch. And that concludes our tour.
The official Space Jam website is a fantastic window into early Internet marking for a tentpole movie, especially for kids. It is, excuse the pun, jam packed with information that likely wasn’t read by many of those who visited it. Instead the target audience would have gone for the pictures, sounds, trailer, wallpapers and music. But looking back at it now, those are so insignificant as they’re all available on Google and YouTube. The website is little more than a press pack, with some additional content that can’t be offered on paper print-outs and horrible to look at backgrounds. The most interesting things on the site now are the detailed stories of making the movie, particularly if that sort of thing floats your boat. In an age where many websites write Oral Histories, the official Space Jam website wrote their own and published it twenty years ago. It’s worth a read.
I just hope that when Space Jam hits its thirtieth anniversary, this website still stands.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.