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Why 2006 isn't like '1984'

Maybe the big game is better than the commercials now

By Todd Leopold

Anya Major gets ready to strike a blow for Apple in the famous "1984" commercial.


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Eye on Entertainment

(CNN) -- Super Bowl XVIII, on January 22, 1984, was a snooze, as most Super Bowls were before the Tom Brady era.

The Los Angeles Raiders were beating the Washington Redskins 21-3 at halftime, and my friends and I, watching the game in a dormitory lobby, were bored. About the only things we were paying attention to were the pizzas drooping over nearby tables and the comely delivery person who brought a new one every half-hour or so.

And then, it came on TV.

"It" was one of those events you're drawn to before you're even aware of it. We gradually noticed a droning voice under a grayed-out picture, an attractive runner in white tank top and red shorts wielding a sledgehammer, rows of bald automaton-like men, a giant TV screen featuring a ranting man. Is this a new movie of Orwell's "1984"?, I vaguely remember thinking. But what's the deal with that runner?

We were mesmerized.

Finally, the runner threw the sledgehammer at the giant screen, it exploded into white, and the scene cut to the shocked audience -- which may as well have been us.

"On January 24th," an announcer said, "Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.' " (Watch the ad hereexternal link.)


It was all anybody could talk about the next day. (The Raiders won, 38-9. Yawn.) And it began a competition that continues to this day: the determination of advertisers to outdo one another in their Super Bowl ads.

After more than 20 years, I kind of wish they'd stop.

Eye on Entertainment explains its reasons.


The "1984" Apple Macintosh ad has been named adman Lee Clow's "masterpiece," the best commercial of the 1980s (Advertising Age) and the greatest commercial of all time (TV Guide). Nobody will ever outdo it in impact: It was unexpectedly, shockingly, uniquely distinctive amid the usual beer and car ads that passed for commercial breaks during the Super Bowl of those days. For a fine description of the commercial's creation and impact, click hereexternal link.) It broke through what marketing people call "the clutter."

It carries its aura to this day: The Super Bowl airing was its only official national broadcast, period. If it appeared after that, it was on news programs or shows such as this Saturday night's "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials" (8 p.m. ET on CBS). It still works, too: Ridley Scott, at the time a veteran of "Alien" and "Blade Runner" and now an Oscar winner for "Gladiator," directed, and the ad was both striking and informative, prompting its viewers to ask more about this new product.

That's something that can't be said for many of the ads that have run on the Super Bowl in recent years.

Go ahead, name a few. The Pepsi ads with Diddy hitching a ride, or Britney Spears, or the creepy one with the kid who gets stuck in the Pepsi bottle at the beach? Could have aired any time -- and almost certainly didn't suddenly encourage people to take another look at Pepsi.

The Budweiser frogs or Clydesdales? No different than the Bud ads you see during any other sports event.

The commercials from the dot-com boom in 2000? Whatever happened to those companies, anyway?

There is one that sticks out in my mind, one that broke through the clutter of computer graphics and talking babies and didn't come with a bowlful of hype. It was the low-budget bit of titillation for That ad was stupid, sexist and silly, but I still remember it -- probably because it was so unlike the overblown mini-feature films that surrounded it.

This Sunday, I'm sure I'll be amused by some ads, infuriated by others and, in general, forget the whole bunch by Monday. After all, I'm trying to watch the game.

The Super Bowl begins around 6:25 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC. Pre-game coverage started last week. (Follow Super Bowl coverage at SI.comexternal link.)

On screen

  • "Something New" stars Sanaa Lathan as an African-American woman who falls in love with a white landscaper, played by Simon Baker. Opens Friday.
  • "When a Stranger Calls" remakes the 1979 movie, which in turn is based on the urban legend/ghost story about a baby sitter getting mysterious phone calls ... from inside the house. Opens Friday.
  • Anthony Hopkins has called his performance in "The World's Fastest Indian," about the speed-record-pursuing Burt Munro, perhaps his best. The Academy Awards apparently didn't think so -- he wasn't nominated for an Oscar -- but reviews generally have been positive for this crowd-pleasing film. It opens in wider release Friday.
  • "A Good Woman" moves Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" from England to Italy and sets it in the 1930s. It stars Scarlett Johansson and Helen Hunt. Opens in limited release Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "Grizzly Man" made many critics' Top 10 lists for 2005, though it missed out on an Oscar nomination for best documentary. Decide for yourself. The film, about a man who got a little too friendly with a bear, airs at 8 p.m. ET Friday on the Discovery Channel.
  • "Saturday Night Live" welcomes back its favorite host, Steve Martin. Musical guest: Prince. Not too shabby. 11:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
  • Sound waves

  • Beth Orton's new album, "Comfort of Strangers" (Astralwerks), comes out Tuesday.
  • Minus 5's new record, "Minus 5" (Yep Roc), comes out Tuesday.
  • I can't help but mention the new album by Acid Mothers Temple, "Starless and Bible Black Sabbath" (Alien 8), because it makes a nifty pun off an old King Crimson album title. Not as clever as Kirsty MacColl's "Electric Landlady," but good. It comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • Jay McInerney's new novel, "The Good Life" (Knopf), comes out Tuesday.
  • "War of Nerves" (Pantheon), Jonathan B. Tucker's study of chemical warfare from World War I to the present, comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • The wonderful, Oscar-nominated film "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" gets its DVD release Tuesday. (Watch a clip from the film -- 2:43)
  • "Just Like Heaven" comes out on DVD Tuesday.
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