Varnish Remover

Saturn Attacks!

Appliances, produced by Hal Riney and Partners Advertising for the Saturn Corp.

Appliances opens with a scene straight out of Spielberg: A premonitory light shines from the upstairs window of a darkened suburban house. Thunder claps, lightning strikes, and Promethean electricity crackles down the pole. Let there be light! And so there is, in the desk lamp that begins to move on its own.

Appliances all around the house activate, leaping and flying off counters and tables to the ground, moving purposefully together across the floor. Although unplugged from their sockets, the appliances continue to function, hinting at the battery-operated product Appliances is selling–the Saturn EV1 electric car. The spot alerts us to the promise of electricity made mobile, the next electric revolution. Light is a metaphor for life here, with animated appliances that produce it scattered among the moving gadgets.

This procession of appliances spilling out onto the sidewalk also borrows heavily from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the elect are inexorably drawn to Devil’s Tower, where they await the arrival of extraterrestrial spacecraft. The appliances gather in nervous expectation at the curb, fidgeting and looking down the empty street. The vehicle that represents the future doesn’t descend, but glides down the street in a morning dawn that seems to herald this new miracle.

As in Close Encounters, at first we see only the vehicle’s lights. The video camera on the sidewalk records the proceedings on its own, its lens auto-focusing on the distant car. We get a glimpse of the car, refracted through a blender’s thick glass and reflected in a computer screen–our eyes going from the most traditional appliance to the most modern to this postmodern vehicle, which, we assume by now, is powered by electricity, not gasoline. The toaster waddles into the street, and the other appliances on the sidewalk fly or move closer to the car. We hear the narrator’s voice for the first and only time, the text as spare as a biblical prologue: “The electric car is here.”

The spot touches the responsive chords of modern mythology and ancient religion. All cars are mobile, of course. But this new, rather squat automobile is introduced in a context that confers on it the mythic feel of transformative incarnation. It is both substance of the present and symbol of the future.

The spot also reminds us of the power of television. This ad has to be seen to be appreciated. Here, the very arrival of the product is enough to fascinate and move us; it is almost as if the future had just happened. Unlike many commercial and most political ads, the spot couldn’t be put on radio with just a few tweaks to the language. What would be a mundane announcement on radio–“The electric car is here”–becomes on television a compelling, self-mocking event.

–Robert Shrum