Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shot-by-Shot Analysis: Palm Pre

Difficulty seeing the ad? Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hk8IzdwYEA

Palm recently launched a campaign for its new Prē smart phone that includes this television advertisement. Since I'm working on a paper about the omnitopian practice of mutability in urban life, I thought I'd share a shot-by-shot analysis of the spot.

The commercial begins with a wide establishing shot of a woman wandering through shoulder-high grass. Surrounding her, rocky hills stretch toward the horizon.

The perspective changes and we are behind her. She is wearing a light, flowing dress that reveals her shoulders. We have adopted her point of view, staring over a verdant valley that is broken in three rows: sky, hills, and grass.

She completes the climb atop one of those rocky hills and now stands above the flat green plane, which appears to be marked by linear hedgerows. The scene is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich's 1818 painting, "Wanderer above the sea of fog" [wiki entry]. This is no sublime encounter; she is heroic, standing at the apex of the earth, ordering her domain with a godlike gaze.

Ethereal music swells.

Now we adopt a position under her, looking up at her body; her gaze looking downward. A serene, close-lidded facial expression conveys calm and control among the clouds. In her right hand, amid a grip that is both firm and relaxed (evidenced by a curved wrist): a black object. She lifts it up and stares at its features, her grasping-arm now rigid.

We are now her, looking down. The smart phone, an ovoid-rectangle, is gripped in our right hand. The fingers are no longer feminized by the addition of the springtime dress; they could belong to any person. The phone screen depicts orange flowers standing among grass stalks. The field beyond is blurry and undistinguished, a blank canvas. A finger presses a button.

Incidentally, connecting these two shots, minuscule san-serif font announces the fantasy-nature of this scene: "Sequence speed adjusted for dramatization purposes. Actual performance may vary." The white color of the words, combined with the moment in which the background changes, produces a nearly perfect impossibility of reading the message. The first half-disappears into the clouds; the second half disappears into the hand.

Once more we adopt the prone position beneath her, as the camera sweeps above. The woman is now our avatar; we loom above her as she crouches upon a rock, one hardly taller than a person. The hill has disappeared; the other hills have now assumed more clearly pyramidal shapes.

Surrounding the woman, lines of orange-clad people, all with black hair, form concentric circles that stretch outward in straight lines. The martial order of their radiated standing suggests that they are Buddhist monks who gather around the blond-haired woman who stands atop the rock.

They leap to their feet as percussion enters the musical mix. Drums announce the woman's mechanized power over the monks. Their outstretched hands connect each to another, yet the result does not create a prison; the monks have formed a temple to her. She is god on earth.

A wider view confirms a human circle of monks on a valley surrounded by green mountains. The woman no longer appears within the human circle.

Along a medium angle of diagonal overhead movement, the monks crouch before her, the subject barely in view. They prostrate themselves to her environmental manifestation, a pyramidal trio of mountains that convey triple-order.

Quick shots follow: a medium close-up of the woman pressing the screen of her phone with monks in mid-motion, then a tight close-up of her finger selecting a calendar event, "Call with B- Office" (afterward, she will pick up dry-cleaning). Her finger depresses and a white halo expands from the event.

Now we adopt a perfect god's-eye view, suspended over the monks who surround the woman.

A voice-over defines this place:
"My life."
The scene is ringed by clouds, establishing our commanding view. Ripples of human motion represent the movement of the digital halo, stretching out and then returning back to the woman in the form of falling bodies. The dance of discipline.
"Like all our lives..."
A lower overhead view, almost parallel with the monks. They stand, only to fall back in a looser ring of circles as the perspective leaps upward once more.
"... is made up of so many other lives."
A rapid succession of shots -- medium close-up, wider shot, zooming overhead -- depict more martial movements of the monks. Their actions resemble calisthenics.

Another close-up shot of a generic finger, which now presses a matrix of photographs. A baby fills the phone's screen, its eyes oversized and black.
"My family's lives..."
The monks leap to their feet, their hands outstretched, their bodies posing in ripples.

The woman swipes a finger over the device, and the monks mutate their forms and relationships accordingly.
"Friends' lives..."
The monks produce an empty row stretching from the woman to the field beyond. A cluster of them form into a spinning ball.
"Work life..."
Her fingers push the phone open to reveal a keyboard. The monks pump their arms outward and drop to the ground in waves.
"Play life..."
Her finger drifts across an arc of icons. She makes her selection and the objects squeeze off the screen, revealing the phone's wallpaper of orange flowers. The screen then fills with a splash image for Pandora internet radio.

The monks leap playfully before dropping again in prone positions.
"My life today and my life next week..."
More finger-flicks and the monks perform intricate and detailed adjustments to parts of the circle, subtle choices that barely affect the whole.
"All of them rearranging themselves. All the time."
More quick-burst motions.
"Isn't it beautiful..."
One more overhead image viewed from the clouds, a human lotus in orange.
"... when life simply..."
Her finger flips through screens, summarizing the symphony.
"...flows together."
We then return to a medium-shot of the woman closing her phone and looking up at the clouds.
"Introducing... the Palm Prē."
In the final image, the phone is alone against a blurred backdrop of clouds and mountains. It is a mediating force in black plastic. A monolith with no people.

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