Play ball! Ahead of the Space Jam sequel making its long-awaited debut this summer, Entertainment Weekly took a look back at the 1996 original that blended the popularity of Michael Jordan with the zany antics of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes characters. Speaking with the movie's director, Joe Pytka, EW learned that the ending scene where Jordan makes it to his baseball game in time (right after defeating the Monstars in a high-stakes basketball match) was originally supposed to be a longer hat tip to 1984's The Natural.
In all fairness, though, Pytka had no scruples in admitting that he merely "ripped off" the Robert Redford sports classic.
"It's a tight game, the stands are full, and Michael looks up and his son gives him a sign to widen his stance, a call back to something he said at the beginning," he recalled. "Then Michael hits a home run and trots around the bases like Robert Redford, with all these flashes popping. Instead of everything falling from the broken lights like in The Natural, I had this special effect with everyone taking pictures with those little cheap cameras you could buy for a dollar."
The sequence ended up cut, which, according to Pytka, sort of undercut Jordan's tight schedule in the movie.
"There was an urgency for him to come back for the game but then he comes back and there's no game," he continued. "It always pissed me off that they didn't put that in there. The ending should have been him hitting the home run. Maybe it was running too long or it was too expensive to do [the effect]. Ivan Reitman, the producer, admitted to me they never knew how to end the film. It kind of meandered."
Instead, the story leaps forward as Jordan returns the stolen talent taken by the Monstars and comes out of basketball retirement. "I don't want to trash the film because it was such a success but it would have added a slight dimension to the film," Pytka said of the axed baseball scene. "Maybe people thought it was too corny."
Space Jam: A New Legacy — a follow-up that's been decades in the making — will finally hit theaters and HBO Max Friday, July 16. Pytka has been outspoken against the Malcolm D. Lee-directed sequel, which will feature LeBron James in the central role originated by MJ.
“I think it’s ridiculous to try and make a different movie out of it,” Pytka remarked in 2018 during a chat with EW. "I can’t see it. I can’t imagine how it could be what that film was. Not that Space Jam is a great movie, but it had something that touched that period of time because of who those athletes were and it doesn’t exist anymore ... I’ve worked with LeBron and I’ve worked with Steph Curry, and as good a player as LeBron is and as good a player as Steph Curry is, they’re not Michael Jordan,” he argues. “We will never see another player like him. He was a transcendent figure, much like Muhammad Ali. He was beyond his sport. These guys aren’t."