It’s almost time to head back to the jam, the Space Jam, that is. The long-awaited LeBron James-led film Space Jam: A New Legacy, which the NBA champion made sure to reiterate, is not a true sequel but that reimagining that “tells of a new legacy, celebrating the importance of family and doing you,” arrives in theaters Friday, July 16. Ahead of the movie’s premiere, CASSIUS Life spoke with the film’s director Malcolm D. Lee.
Last week, we caught up with Lee during a basketball court refurbishment at Mae Grant Park in East Harlem, which also served as a block party sponsored by the film. After he unveiled what the future basketball court will look like, we had the opportunity to go 1-on-1 with Lee, who has also directed other beloved films like The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday and Night School.
We got to ask Lee about directing King James in his first starring role, whether or not the complaints about the movie being made had him feeling nervous about doing the film, if they got any inspiration from the original Space Jam, and if he thinks there is any possibility for more Space Jam movies.
Step into the interview below.
CASSIUS Life: LeBron is no stranger to being on the big screen, but this is like his first big starring role. Basically, you were like his head coach for this process. What was it like coaching LeBron through this whole process while making the film?
Malcolm D. Lee: Fantastic. He’s a great leader. He’s very talented. He wants to get better. He wants to be directing. He wants to be coached and, you know, has no ego about it. Like, give him a note about something, and he leads by example. He never left the set. He interacted with his co-stars, played H-O-R-S-E with his MOCAP performers. And, he was there for his background talent as well.
My approach was to let the movie stand alone, try to take advantage of all the technology at our disposal.
CL: When Space Jam: A New Legacy was first announced, many people were very on the fence about it because they’re very attached to the first film. With that being the case, were you nervous about directing Space Jam: A New Legacy?
ML: I was, but not for the reasons about the previous movie. I mean, this is like the third or fourth time that I’ve done a movie, like the next in line. I’ve done Barbershop. I did Scary Movie. I did Best Man. My approach was like, let the movie stand alone, try to take advantage of all the technology at our disposal. Technically, when you think about where animation films and family films have gone and how they evolved, it’s very, very different. And the expectation level from audiences, it’s not just for kids, that adults will enjoy it, the teenagers will enjoy it.
That the hybrid technology has gotten better, and that the audiences feel something. So, you want all of that. You want all those things. So the intimidation for me was more about not having worked in animation or visual effects at this level before. Not so much about the legacy of it, though I know how important it is and how nostalgic people feel about the first one.
CL: So, sticking on the topic of Space Jam, did you draw any inspiration from the first film to use in the new movie at all, or is this really just A New Legacy?
ML: We certainly paid respect and paid honor to it, you know what I mean? Like, structurally speaking, the first, like, five minutes is very much similar to the first Space Jam. How we chronicle where LeBron came from and what his rise entailed, but then we made our own path after that. So, it wasn’t so much about trying to disrespect or distance ourselves from it, but we weren’t really making a sequel. We were using the title, using the Tunes, and using basketball, but the movie’s very different.
We were using the title, using the Tunes, and using basketball, but the movie’s very different.
CL: Do you see Space Jam possibly becoming a popular franchise? Do you possibly see other big-name basketball players having their own version of this film and different stories revolving around it?
ML: That’s possible, but, I mean, you know, I think what took the first, or this next iteration of Space Jam to happen, was to get a once-in-a-generation player. You know, there are very few players that could transcend sports the way LeBron and Michael Jordan have done. You probably can’t name one that’s even close. And that’s no disrespect to those players who are very good at what they do but, I mean, not many people have that personality that crosses over internationally. And LeBron’s been very intentional about his acumen. But first and foremost, starting with the game of basketball and where that leads him.
Based on what Lee said, this could be the last Space Jam movie we see for a while, and that’s fine. Space Jam: A New Legacy could resonate with this generation of basketball fans the same way 1997’s Space Jam movie did with kids and Michael Jordan fans at that time.
Space Jam: A New Legacy arrives in theaters and HBO Max July 16.
Photos: Bernard Smalls/ Warner Bros