Home > Reviews > SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY – Kris Bowers


Original Review by Christopher Garner

Twenty-five years ago Michael Jordan shared the big screen with the Looney Tunes for a film that was lackluster (at best), yet is fondly remembered by a lot of people of a certain age. Now we get the sequel, in which a fictional Lebron James (played by the actual Lebron James) and his fictional son Dom (played by Cedric Joe) are sucked into a virtual multiverse of Warner Brothers properties by an evil artificial intelligence named Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle). James runs into the Looney Tunes and enlists them to play in a basketball game that will somehow determine the outcome of the film. Director Malcolm D. Lee is usually associated with comedies steeped in African American culture like Girl’s Trip, Undercover Brother, and The Best Man, rather than live action/animation hybrid films for children. This film has not fared well critically. It made $160 million worldwide, but with a budget of $150 million, it can’t exactly be termed a financial success either.

Juilliard-educated Kris Bowers wrote the film score. Bowers is one of only a few black film composers in Hollywood, and much of his music has been written for films that deal directly with race. He scored Green Book in 2018, and has worked with Netflix on such series as Dear White People and Bridgerton. Bowers is having a big year in 2021, having also scored The United States vs. Billie Holiday, the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, and the upcoming King Richard. For Space Jam: A New Legacy, Bowers crafted an orchestral score blended with hip-hop rhythms/electronics and sprinkled throughout with throwbacks to music from the Looney Tunes of yesteryear.

The score opens up with “A New Legacy”—a clear example of the aforementioned hip hop influence, and includes a kind of demented variation on the classic “Merrily We Roll Along” theme from the Looney Tunes cartoons. The next cue, “Look at His Likes,” starts with some tremulous strings accompanying a repeating five-note motif played by various woodwinds. The middle section is darker and foreboding, though not much is going on. The music picks up steam and gives us some racing strings toward the end of the cue. “The Warner 3000” is the first instance of the sound you’ve probably come to associate with inspirational sports films. It’s noble, heroic, and anthemic. Horns and strings give us a nice theme over a distant snare drum.

“Get a New Algorithm” introduces some repeating brass notes accompanied by some subtle electronics and some ominous strings. “That’s Not What I Want,” starts with some surprisingly sentimental piano over strings that is quickly jettisoned for more of the sound from the opening cue. “Into the Serververse,” has some lighthearted bassoon at the beginning before getting back to more ominous orchestral music with electronics. “Are All Computers Like This,” is kind of a microcosm for the whole score. It has some playful and goofy solo woodwind moments that remind you of what you’d expect from a classic Looney Tunes cartoon, it has some hip-hop beats, it has some swelling orchestral moments, some ominous strings and repeating brass notes, a little cooing choir for a moment, then some zaniness at the end that is clearly another homage to the old cartoons. The problem is that none of it is terrible interesting or memorable.

“Meeting Bugs Bunny” is probably the cue that’s most like what you’d expect from a Looney Tunes film or cartoon—it even has a slide whistle! It again quotes the “Merrily We Roll Along” theme from the original cartoons. It has some zany antics. It’s mickey-mousy. It gets really classical-sounding halfway through, which is perfect for Looney Tunes. A detuned piano gives off a wild-west vibe for a moment.

Most of the rest of the album is, frankly, more of the same. There isn’t really any memorable main theme or themes that you can use as guideposts as you go through the album. Each track feels like a hodgepodge of musical ideas that are only together because of the onscreen antics of Bugs Bunny and Co. Sometimes the music is more orchestral, sometimes more electronic. It veers from foreboding to zany to inspirational on a dime. Every now and then there’s a moment of calm, but there aren’t any musical ideas that last longer than a moment in most of this music. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, wait about 20 seconds and it will be completely different. I have no doubt that this music serves its film well, and it’s all very competently done—at times it’s even very complex—it just suffers a bit as a stand-alone listening experience. Then again, it wasn’t meant to be that, so I guess we can’t complain too much.

That doesn’t mean the score is without highlights. “Time for an Upgrade” begins a little less seriously, but grows into one of the better hip-hop/orchestral combinations on the album. The beat (which reminds me at times of Killmonger’s theme from The Black Panther) accompanies some large-sounding brass and strings. “Start Game” has some interesting manipulated sounds at the beginning and some truly wailing brass at the end. “Serververse Classic” has a huge sound to it at some points, and has a lot going on. “Michael ‘B.’ Jordan” has a lovely melody at the end that starts with piano and builds to one of the more emotional moments of the score. “Let’s Go Tunes” has a nice descending four-note motif played triumphantly by the brass section several times, and maybe a nod to Don Davis’s Matrix scores for a second. “I Am the Game” features one of the most sweeping melodies of the score, a five-note theme that is played a few times. “Posterized” provides a nice victory moment. “That’s All Folks,” provides a lovely emotional finale to the story, and is probably my favorite track on the album.

The problem with most of these highlights is that they’re just short moments in cues full of lots of other short moments that aren’t as good or as memorable, and there isn’t a strong thematic through-line tying it all together. Kris Bowers is a talented composer. Unfortunately, I don’t think this film provided him with the best palette to work from. The nods to the OG Looney Tunes music made me smile, and the orchestra does reach some impressive heights, but the score changes tone so frequently that it really doesn’t work very well as a listening experience away from the film.

Buy the Space Jam: A New Legacy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A New Legacy (0:42)
  • Look at His Likes (2:40)
  • The Warner 3000 (1:15)
  • Get a New Algorithm (1:34)
  • That’s Not What I Want (1:35)
  • Into the Serververse (2:14)
  • Are All Computers Like This? (4:16)
  • Meeting Bugs Bunny (6:39)
  • The Dream Team (1:56)
  • Not the Team I Asked For (2:25)
  • The Basics (1:57)
  • Turn up Dom (2:51)
  • Time for an Upgrade (3:41)
  • Start Game (3:21)
  • Serververse Classic (3:57)
  • Chronos (2:33)
  • Michael “B” Jordan (2:40)
  • Let’s Go Tunes (5:17)
  • I Am the Game (4:28)
  • Sic ‘Em Goons (1:37)
  • The Step-Back Glitch (2:30)
  • The Final Play (1:03)
  • Posterized (2:02)
  • That’s All Folks (2:23)
  • Back to Reality/The Merry Go Round Broke Down (2:54)

Running Time: 68 minutes 18 seconds

Watertower Music (2021)

Music composed by Kris Bowers. Conducted by Fabrizio Mancinelli. Orchestrations by Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Additional music by Pierre Charles and Michael Dean Parsons. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Joseph Bonn and Daniel Waldman. Album produced by Kris Bowers and Max Wrightson.

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