Archive for June, 2012

On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”


”Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology – where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

Prometheus (2012) has been hailed as Ridley Scott‘s first return to science fiction since the classics Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) – but this isn’t quite true. Scott also made this 60 second Apple Macintosh advert, 1984, in 1983. The advert was a coproduction between Apple Computers and Chiat\Day, and was written by copywriter Steve Hayden, creative director Lee Clow, and art director Brent Thomas, and shot at Shepperton Studios in the UK.

1984 was famously broadcast in the USA on January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII but contrary to popular belief, it was not broadcast only once: it hadpreviously been shown in the 1am sign-off slot for KMVT, Channel 11 in Twin Falls, Idaho, in order to qualify for that year’s advertising awards, and a 30 second version had been shown in cinemas by ScreenVision.

The advert cost $400,000 to make with an additional $500,000 spent on airtime. The impact it made however, is estimated to have generated $5 million of free publicity.

The advert begins with a high angled shot of a vast cylindrical chamber, criss-crossed by transparently walled walkways. Through these walkways, which are lined by television monitors broadcasting political propaganda, we see grey, drabbly dressed, shaven headed and androgynous figures marching – or being marched – towards a large hall dominated by an enormous telescreen on which we see a Big Brother-like figure continuing the speech we heard in the walkways. Many of the workers wear breathing apparatus suggesting pollution – or possibly a fear of biological contamination. The speech praises unity and conformity of thought; his delivery and language – that of ”a garden of pure ideology” menaced by ”pest purveying contradictory truths” – deliberately evoke the speeches of Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Mussolini.

This sequence is intercut with slow-motion shots of an athletic young woman dressed in shorts and vest, carrying a large hammer, and being pursued by visored, fascistic-looking police. The woman is tanned, wears red shorts, and an Apple Picasso t-shirt, and represents the only colour in this dreary dystopian future. As the speech builds to its climax, and the rows of drab workers stare transfixed at the screen, the woman throws the hammer at the screen, which explodes showering the shocked audience with dust. The text ”On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” then scrolls up the screen.

The future portrayed owes an obvious debt to George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – particularly the ”Two Minutes Hate” sequence – and this is confirmed by the text; the notoriously litigious (indeed, Orwellian) estate of Orwell issued a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and Chiat/Day in April 1984 and it was never broadcast afterward except in retrospectives about adverts. It also shows a visual debt to George Lucas‘ THX 1138 (1971).

The advert stars discus thrower and actress Anya Major, who would also star as ”Nikita” in the video of the Elton John song of the same name. ”Big Brother” is played by David Graham, a voice artist who had played Daleks in their first four Doctor Who outings, ”The Daleks’‘ (1963), ”The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (1964),  ”The Chase” (1965) and ”The Daleks Master Plan” (1965-66), and therefore no stranger to voicing fascistic figures. Graham is most famous as the voice of Parker in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson‘s Thunderbirds (1965), in which he also voiced Gordon TracyKyrano, Captain Hansen, and others; he would be more visible in Doctor Who as the barman Charlie in ”The Gunfighters” (1966), and as the ill-fated Professor Kerensky in ”City of Death” (1979). The workers were cast from among 200 skinheads.

The stunning cinematography was by Adrian Biddle (1952-2005) who had previously worked as a clapper loader on Scott’s The Duellists (1977) and focus puller on Alien (1979); he was hired as cinematographer for Aliens (1986) by James Cameron on Scott’s recommendation, and would work on Scott’s  own Thelma and Louise (for which he received an Oscar nomination, 1991) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). Other sf included Danny Cannon‘s disappointing Judge Dredd (1995) and Paul W. S. Anderson‘s entertaining Alien-rip-off Event Horizon (1997). His last film as cinematographer, which was dedicated to him, was James McTeigue‘s V for Vendetta (2006).

It was edited by Pam Power at The Film Editors, London.

The ”Big Brother” figure – identified as ”Prophet Mentor” in the text on the telescreen – is generally interpreted as representing IBM, which dominated the home computer market at that time; Steve Jobs certainly interpreted it that way when the advert was shown to Apple’s annual sales meeting in Hawaii in October 1983. Copywriter Steve Hayden denies this intention, however:

The real villain was our collective fear of technology, not a corporation either real or imagined…

The first version of the spot was more Jetsons than Metropolis. The intention was to remove people’s fears of technology at a time when owning your own computer made about as much sense as owning your own cruise missile. We wanted to democratize technology, telling people that the power was now literally in their hands.

If you can remember back that far, the Cold War was still pretty hot. Reagan was in the White House, and the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire. We knew that if fax machines could bring down dictatorships, personal computers could do infinitely more. The Big Brother of the spot wasn’t IBM—it was any government dedicated to keeping its populace in the dark. We knew that computers and communications could change all that.

Steve Hayden, 1984: As Good as t Gets”

Ironically Apple itself would later be seen as representing the same authoritarian ”big business” that this advert was satirising: Motorola, developers of a rival Smartphone, portrayed Apple as Big Brother in their own Superbowl commercial in 2011.

The advert was not popular with Apple’s board. Apple had originally bought two minutes of advertising time during Super Bowl XVIII: as an indicator of their lack of confidence in the ad 30 seconds of that time was sold to Hertz and a second 30-seconds were sold to Heinz. Chairman Mike Markkula proposed sacking the ad agancy. It has, however, been acknowledged as a classic.

The advert won both the 31st Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival – Grand Prix Award and the Clio Award in 1984; the Clio Awards Hall of Fame Award, and Advertising Age Award for Greatest Commercial in 1995; TV Guide – Number One Greatest Commercial of All Time in 1999; World Federation of Advertisers – Hall of Fame (Jubilee Golden Award) in 2003; and  an award for Best Super Bowl Spot (in the game’s 40-year history) in 2007. For the advert’s 20th Anniversary an iPod was added to the runner.

1984 Runner 11984 Runner 2

1984 Runner 31984 Runner 4

The advert has been parodied in both a Season Three episode of Futurama called ”Future Stock” (2002), and a Season Twenty episode The Simpsons called Mypods and Boomsticks” (2008) – in which Steve Jobs, ironically enough, played “Big Brother”.

And it still wasn’t the end for Scott and science fiction – as he later returned with a series of three Blade Runner inspired ”Futureworld” adverts for Barclays Bank.