Every three hours, day by day, for the previous seven and a half years, an anxious, spirited Twitter bot has transmitted a brief message of perseverance and hope into the universe.
“The Space Jam website is still online,” it tweets. Or: “Hooray! Space Jam is still online!”
To date, the bot, @SpaceJamTest, has assured a altering world greater than 20,000 occasions that the official web site of the 1996 live-action/animated sports activities comedy “Space Jam” stays a purposeful net vacation spot. If it surprises you to be taught that folks care whether or not or not the promotional web site for a mid-90s kids’s film remains to be on-line, congratulations — you’ve simply revealed your utter, humiliating ignorance about all issues referring to the mildly well-known “Space Jam” web site.
Whence the “Space Jam” Website?
The 1996 “Space Jam” website is vital in the way in which vintage maps are vital — not as a result of they’re essentially helpful instruments for present-day navigation, however as a result of they reveal the boundaries round which individuals’s lives have been as soon as oriented, and invite us to recollect, or think about, a world otherwise organized.
Many years previous its authentic relevance (of which there was by no means terribly a lot, this being the official web site of the 1996 live-action/animated sports activities comedy “Space Jam”), the “Space Jam” web site now serves as a digital portal to the 1990s. The residence web page — a low decision star-speckled black galaxy whose flat cartoon planets are slapped, like stickers, across the “Space Jam” brand — just isn’t a nostalgic recreation. It is the true factor, fantastically preserved within the resin of digital time — a visible artifact from a much less related World Wide Web.
Today the web is dominated by overlapping social platforms. But the “Space Jam” web site, which existed earlier than Google, harkens to an period when the online felt extra like an infinite archipelago of islands to which one would possibly surf in pursuit of 1’s passions — or by chance.
Run on a fundamental HTML script, the web site is a bonanza of early web “content”: downloadable screen savers; in-progress animation sketches; printable coloring pages that includes the phrases “Space Jam” in giant Times New Roman font; basic basketball tips; a one-second.wav file of Michael Jordan saying, “You guys are nuts.” And extra.
(The plot of the movie, recounted in great detail on the web site, facilities on a basketball match that pits Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes in opposition to a staff of aliens who intention to seize them and drive them to work as leisure “slaves” at their “Moron Mountain” amusement park positioned in outer house. It was the 15th best-performing movie of 1996, incomes barely extra domestically than “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and much lower than “The Nutty Professor.”)
To ensure, it’s unlikely many kids of the ’90s spent their free time studying the lyrical growth narratives of characters like Elmer Fudd posted on the “Space Jam” web site. (“Without changing the basic nature or concept of the character, his directors and animators finally developed him into a creature capable of great elasticity,” the copy explains.) At the identical time, youngsters with cable tv have been virtually definitely conscious of the movie.
But whereas the movie pale from the recollections of millennials as they aged, its digital altar remained accessible and comparatively pristine.
The web site catapulted to meme standing in 2010, apparently after a Reddit post drew customers’ consideration to its inexplicable continued existence. A couple of years later, Rolling Stone revealed a prolonged, definitive history of the site — a story of survival within the face of the web’s fast evolution.
People’s favourite factor about www.spacejam.com was merely that it was. (“This is like finding King Tut’s tomb of my childhood movie recollection,” wrote one Reddit consumer.)
But on April 2, 2021 the Twitter bot, @SpaceJamTest, sounded an alarm: “Hmm, looks like Space Jam isn’t online. Hopefully it’s a fluke ;(.”
Hither the “Space Jam” Website
The “Space Jam” bot continued to sound its mournful toll for 3 days, at which level a human, Colin Mitchell, the bot creator, stepped in. The “Space Jam” web site was nonetheless entire, Mr. Mitchell tweeted, however had moved to a brand new URL: www.spacejam.com/1996.
The original area had been repurposed to promote a brand new “Space Jam” film, scheduled for release on July 16.
(In the new version, the basketball star LeBron James joins forces with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes to free himself and his son — by means of a basketball game — from imprisonment in a virtual world. The new “Space Jam” web site describes this as “the highest-stakes challenge” of LeBron James’s life.)
The website for “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” is — at least at present — modern, minimal and much less clickable than its predecessor. The landing page features a crisp image of Mr. James and Bugs Bunny clutching basketballs in silhouette. An image of the classic “Space Jam” logo, located in the upper-right portion of the screen, functions as a button back to the 1996 website.
“I think big feature-heavy movie websites are a thing of the past,” said Don Buckley, who worked as the vice president of advertising and publicity at Warner Bros. at the time of the original film’s debut.
Social media, he said, has negated the usefulness of most flashy movie websites.
“A distributed content model online is a much more effective means of marketing and communication,” said Mr. Buckley. (Indeed, the main event of the new Space Jam page is an embedded YouTube trailer for the film.)
Mr. Buckley was an early proponent of movie websites as promotional tools. It was he who enlisted a small, largely autonomous team of web producers and designers — Dara Kubovy-Weiss, Jen Braun, Michael Tritter and Andrew Stachler — to create a richly detailed online hub for all things “Space Jam.” The website took shape in an office in midtown Manhattan, far from the influence of studio executives and other producers.
Online media, said Mr. Buckley, “was clumsy and adolescent, just like us.”
“We were exuberant about its possibilities. And, you know, we were kind of subversively thumbing our noses at all the skeptics,” he said.
At the time, few people in the publicity industry understood how to create websites — and “nobody who wasn’t doing it could fake knowing it,” said Mr. Buckley.
“Space Jam happened at a moment in time when the internet was still whispering its promise.”
Ms. Kubovy-Weiss, who was a producer on the website, and is now the director of a branding consultancy, said that at the time she worked on the site, not many people in her life visited websites or had an appreciation for the internet. The lack of familiarity — and oversight — allowed the design team to experiment.
“We were able to sort of take risks and do things that we thought were funny or interesting or cool without having to go through the channels that a more mainstream marketing effort would have required,” said Ms. Kubovy-Weiss.
These included a secretive effort to sprinkle Easter eggs — or hidden interactive features — throughout the website. Two decades later, members of the design team, who keep in touch via a group text assembled after the website’s unexpected popular resurgence in 2010, still won’t confirm how many of these are buried within the html. Fans have discovered at least some. (For instance, clicking on the letter “y” in one publicist’s name on the credits page automatically downloads an audio clip of a voice croaking the word “Yeah.”)
Mr. Tritter, who, at 26, was declared associate producer of the site and is credited by the web team with writing most of its snarky text, remembers not being particularly excited for the movie, which was aimed at a generation now known as “millennials.”
“Gen X kids were not the target audience,” said Mr. Tritter, now 51 and a music producer and writer in Los Angeles. The film and website were designed for “kids who were kind of growing up on the internet for the first time,” he said.
Years ago, Mr. Tritter was having drinks with some acquaintances at the SXSW music festival when one of them mentioned to the group that Mr. Tritter was “O.G. internet,” and had helped build the website. A younger attendee appeared shocked and impressed. Mr. Tritter thought he was kidding.
That was the first time he understood, said Mr. Tritter, “that something I found hilarious — they actually thought it was cool.” He had regarded the newfound obsession with the website as somewhat ridiculous. But, “a whole generation younger than us is like, ‘No, no, no, that’s actually something that we were all really into at the time.’”
“I realized I was among millennials and that they were different from me,” he said. The friend who had broken the news to the group said he “went into a thousand yard stare and muttered ‘this will define my life.’”
Curiously, while the original audience of millennials approaches middle age — the oldest members of that cohort will turn 40 this year — fans of the 1996 “Space Jam” website seem only to get younger. For Ripley Heator, 19, an animation and game arts student in Philadelphia, the source material is besides the point. He discovered the site in 2020; its features and layout influenced a project for his web design class.
“I don’t have many memories of this movie,” said Mr. Heator. “I’m mostly just a fan of the site.”
Mr. Mitchell, 45, created the @SpaceJamCheck bot account in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that it wouldn’t tweet forever.
“I was happy to make a Twitter bot that would be around for what I assumed would be the inevitable day that it would go offline,” he said.
When the site was moved to its new URL, fear erupted in the bot’s mentions from fans who thought the day had come. Mr. Mitchell, who works as a web developer in Montague, Mass., began questioning, as @SpaceJamCheck, whether it was even worth continuing the watchdog account.
“I tweeted as the bot, like, ‘Hey I’m thinking about shutting this down’ and I got a lot of responses that people didn’t want me to,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I guess they still see some value in it.”
He has mixed feelings about that: “It’s OK to let go of things, but at the same time, this has become a really important part of internet history.”