(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Michael Jordan’s Playground
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: A boy named Walt (Tyrin Turner) does not make it onto his high school basketball team. Disappointed in himself and his performance, he retreats to a local court and berates himself…until NBA superstar Michael Jordan – who, in real life, also did not make his high school team during his sophomore year – shows up to inspire Walt to become a better player and make the team the next year. All of this is interspersed with NBA highlights of Jordan dominating on the court.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: For years, I always assumed director Zack Snyder‘s first movie was his (very good) remake of Dawn of the Dead, which was released in 2004. And indeed, that was his first theatrically released feature film. But technically, he made a movie before that: Michael Jordan’s Playground, a direct-to-video film about a kid who meets up with Jordan on what may or may not be a magical playground.
Snyder has spent the better part of his career depicting larger-than-life heroes on screen: the Spartans in 300, the superheroes of the DCEU, even the owls of Ga’Hoole. But it turns out that throughline goes all the way back to 1990, when he directed the biggest basketball player in the world in Michael Jordan’s Playground. The film is primarily an excuse to showcase Jordan’s incredible highlights (those make up a majority of the runtime), but the framing device novelty had to be directed by someone – and it turns out that someone happens to be one of the biggest and most divisive filmmakers working in Hollywood today. At this point in his career, the only thing Snyder had directed professionally was a single music video for a hair metal band.
Admittedly, the film itself is not great. (Especially considering the existence of the IMAX documentary Michael Jordan: To the Max and the wonderful 10-part documentary The Last Dance.) But it is a fascinating cultural relic of its time, and a curious object on Snyder’s filmography. If you can’t get enough of Michael Jordan’s Playground, Amazon Prime Video is also currently hosting a documentary about the making of this movie. (That documentary misspells his name as “Zach” Snyder in an on-screen graphic during an interview with the young filmmaker.) You won’t be blown away by the filmmaking, but for the Snyder completists out there, it may provide some entertainment. If nothing else, you’ll be able to stump your movie-loving friends with a piece of trivia.
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