"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

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February 04, 2004

The Real Reason We Watch the Super Bowl
So, Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone again and, rather than talk about the actual game (which flirted back and forth with being painfully dull and propulsively exciting) or even Janet Jackson's ninja-star (looking like some kind of creepy rape defense mechanism), let's jump to the commercials. For the thousands (likely millions) of people who don't give a damn about the two teams playing, the main reason to watch (besides basking in the glow of the phosphorescent spectacle of it all) is, of course, the commercials. However, for the past few years, audiences have been underwhelmed and a general feeling of malaise sinks in the next day when talking about them. Nothing leaps out like the Bud-Weis-Er frogs (is it maybe a little wrong that I can remember exactly where I was when I first saw that Hall of Fame commercial?) or even the infamous Reebok Pumps ad with the bungee jumpers that was promptly pulled from the airwaves and never shown again after the Big Game. Hell, where's Bud Bowl when you need it? I think there was a couple year span when I cared more about that game than the actual one (damn you Bud Light). Everyone seems a little disappointed, but I think the problem is that we've simply gotten too spoiled now. Think about it: ten years ago, the Super Bowl was THE showcase for new ad campaigns. You'd hear about the upcoming ads for weeks beforehand. Overinflated budgets and long running times were the norm. But there's been a revolution in television advertising since then. With an overabundance of filmmakers graduating school trying to "make it," many of them shrewedly sold their souls and leaped into advertising. You know something is askew when there are more letterboxed commercials than movies on television today. Look at the ads of the 80's or even earlier and today's ads and it's night and day. All this talent being thrown into advertising means we're getting much more than our usual quota of clever, memorable ads over the course of the year. Our expectations for the Super Bowl remain sky-high, though, but the ads now can't jack it up another level without Michael Bay and $60 million involved. So, though each of the ads that premiered during the game this year would likely play very well in any other timeslot in the course of the year, taken as a whole here, it's a little underwhelming.

My personal favorites were the AOL/American Chopper ads, which bucked high-budget trends with a low-tech look befitting its TV inspiration. This is CG put to use perfectly, in my opinion. The whole thing doesn't feel like it's come out of George Lucas's hard drive--instead, it takes a normal situation (portrayed perfectly with the home video quality look) and gives it that extra exaggerated tweak that makes it great comedy. Also see the Ratchet and Clank ads playing now for another example (the Gravity Bomb explosion that rocks the neighbor's back yard works perfectly). The other ad that stuck out in my mind was the NFL Network singing of "Tomorrow." My face was locked in a "what the hell" expression for nearly the entire time, but the punchline makes it worth it. Nicely done and close to capturing some of that old Super Bowl ad glory. Also had the best use of athletes out of any ad this year. Bonus points.

Linux Delusions
Another series of ads that's been making the rotation over the past few weeks (and also which debuted a new entry during the Super Bowl) is IBM's new Linux ads. Just off the top of my head, but does anyone else think that these commercials act as a nice metaphor for Linux itself? And not in the idealistic way that IBM is intending. Think about it. They feature a small boy, always sitting down and staring forward intently. In one ad, a parade of intelligentsia and artists share their knowledge with the boy, teaching him business strategies and musical theory, among many other things. In another ad, he’s seen in various locales around the world, always sitting, always passive, taking in the world around him. So, what we have is a mute, seemingly crippled young child. Hmmm, able to disseminate all of the knowledge of the world with limitless possibilities, but with no basic practicality, immature, and unable to communicate on even the most basic level with others? Kinda sounds like Linux, doesn’t it?

I only wish that Microsoft had the guts to release their own ad in this series. That little Linux boy would be sitting in a playground, trying to play well with others. Except here comes the school bully: imagine Bill Gates as he pictured his character in D&D as a teenager. He walks over, shoves the Linux boy to the ground and breaks his legs, assuring that he couldn't move around enough to spread his teachings to others. Then, he picks him up and ties him to the Henry Rollins table from Johnny Mnemonic, reading his mind and having the knowledge within transcribed by an illiterate, half-blind caveman. Then, Bill picks up the boy's lifeless body and dumps it into the chair from Paycheck, wiping out his memory entirely. Finally, Bill drags the body out onto a boat and dumps it into the ocean to be washed ashore like Jason Bourne, with no memory and only a small MS cut into his arm. Wow, I just blew my own mind. Why can't anyone take risks and make this happen. Hell, it doesn't even have to be a follow-up ad, this sounds like it could be a prequel also, right? The boy gets up, confused and alienated, and the teaching process starts again. Fucking beautiful.

One more quick semi-related thought: don't those new Apple computers look pretty sweet? And with an operating system widely accepted to be more user-friendly and stable than the latest Microsoft OS Security Hole (download the new patch today!). Wouldn’t the Great Apple/Linux Merger be something to look at with awe? How could that fail? Just a thought...

Hollywood Bullshit #3532
Does anyone else think Scarlett Johansson is turning into the next Kirsten Dunst/Julia Stiles, only with better acting skills and better taste in movies? She's only TWENTY and her resume already sounds like the nominees for an Independent Spirit award: Ghost World, The Man Who Wasn't There, Lost in Translation, Girl With A Pearl Earring. Dunst was in the same league five years ago with Sofia Coppola's first film, The Virgin Suicides, but has since then been wasting time in Get Over It, Bring it On, and Crazy/Beautiful. She teamed up with Stiles and an All-Star team of female actresses in Mona Lisa Smile, but the film tanked and she couldn't leave her mark surrounded by so many other notable names. Sure, she's still got plenty of cachet with Spider-Man and joining Michel Gondry's new film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will help her this year as well, but I can't see this continuing too much longer. I'd give her a couple more years of slow decline and then it's just a matter of time until the inevitable "nude scene in an independent movie that I claim is for the sake of the film but is more the sake of my career" (let's call this the "Katie Holmes in The Gift" move). She reportedly refused a nude scene in Eternal Sunshine, but I'll take odds it's coming in the next three to five years. I like Julia Stiles, but she's in the same territory as Dunst only without a cashcow like Spider-Man to guarantee major exposure or a body like Dunst's to exploit in a high-profile nude scene. My call? She's going to need to nail a major, Academy Award nominated performance soon or she'll be relegated to the promising B-list as well. As for Johansson, I think in twenty years Dunst and Stiles will look back in disbelief at the high-quality body of work Johansson will amass (and the Academy Award that seems inevitable at this rate). I think she's that good.