Barbara Lippert’s Critique

This new global Nike commercial for World Cup 2002 was directed by Terry Gilliam and uses a remix of Elvis Presley. Forget the soccer angle—it’s hard not to be completely knocked out by the gift of that unlikely duo. And true to the nature of both artists, we get furious, anarchic, mysterious, Brazil-like visuals underscored by the pure liquid poetry of “A Little Less Conversation.”

Called “The Secret Tournament,” the spot documents a soccer game that’s so fast and dense and packed with detail that it’s hard to decipher in one viewing. Watching it is a transporting experience nonetheless, from the first “hunh?” to the last.

To begin with, we’re totally out at sea: The action takes place in the belly of a monster battleship docked in an unknown harbor, which seems familiar. It’s the way Gilliam, who first surfaced as an animator and performer for Monty Python, started Brazil, with the subtitle “Somewhere in the 20th century.”

For a teeny bit of clarity, we get a voiceover with an English accent saying, “Hidden from the world, 24 elite players hold a secret tournament with eight teams and only one rule.” Although this setup—having the guys arrive by boat while we hear about their challenge—is a bit Survivor-like, the experience becomes more like trying to decipher Ozzy Osbourne while watching Oz, all underscored by the up-tempo funk of 1968 movie Elvis, made even funkier in the remix. (This is the first time a song from the Elvis catalog has been remixed, by the way, and it proves that there’s only one King and he can get better with time.)

A menacing-looking guy (shaved head, beard stubble, double-breasted suit and tie) shouts into a microphone in fully inflected French: “Frorororo gkgkko wuiii!” At least, that’s what I heard. He’s actually saying, “First goal wins!” and he’s sometime-thuggish French soccer legend turned actor Eric Cantona playing master of ceremonies, complete with cane, all the better to tap Fred Astaire-like while walking on the ceiling of the cagelike field that the stars play on.

A silver ball drops from a hatch above, and the players—a crew of global superstars—proceed to play in what looks like a penal complex, complete with clanking metal fences, scary chains instead of nets in the goal, and odd motorized signs going up and down. The look of the spot is murky black and white, but some of the players wear bright orange, which really pops.

Soccer stars such as Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Ron aldo and Euro peans Luis Figo and Thierry Henry play in a three-on-three contest. The moves are exaggerated—one player leaps off another’s back for a header—so that the athletes not only play a physical game but also show off their skills and tricks as delightfully as any of the streetballers in Nike’s “Free style” basketball spot.

The spot will surely be huge in Europe, where 100,000 rabid fans might attend a typical “football” championship and hundreds of millions watch on TV. But with Elvis and the pirate-style visuals, “Secret Tournament” offers enough universal intrigue for the non-soccer fan. There’s also a huge Internet component, where surfers can get into this tournament or form their own teams.

This is a piece of typical Gil liam-like contrast between reality and fantasy. It’s also a work of extremes, filled with visual elements of entrapment and imprisonment along with images of great freedom and elation, of playing the game and scoring a goal.

To that end, the spot wraps on a surprisingly lighthearted note. The lads jump off the ship into the water, while a voice straight out of Monty Python yells, “Go home. Bye!” And we too have had a self-contained experience while being part of a common global thought. Bravo!

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