We’ve never known footwear giant Nike to spare the advertising dollars, just as we’ve never known filmmaker Terry Gilliam to compromise his vision. Only natural, then, that the two would cross creative and financial paths. Shot in late 2001 and early 2002, the 12 Monkeys director’s pair of Nike spots, meant to coincide with the 2002 World Cup, brought together some of the era’s finest footballers for a characteristically grim, dystopian, but visually rich and smirkingly humorous tournament to end all tournaments. “Hidden from the world,” announces Nike’s original press release about the first commercial, “24 elite players hold a secret tournament, with eight teams, and only one rule… ‘First goal wins!’”
“Controlling the action is Eric Cantona,” the text continues, “who oversees every three-on-three match noir that takes place in a huge container ship docked in an unknown harbor. With Monsieur Cantona at the helm, you can be assured there will be no whining, no judgment calls, and no mercy.” The teams assembled include “Triple Espresso” (Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata, and Thierry Henry), “Equipo del Fuego” (Hernan Crespo, Claudio Lopez, and Gaizka Mendieta), and the “Funk Seoul Brothers” (Denílson de Oliveira Araújo, Ki Hyeon Seol, and Ronaldinho). You’ll see quite a lot of action between them on this broken-down futuristic prison of a pitch in the three minutes of “The Secret Tournament,” but things intensify further in “The Rematch” just above. You can find more behind-the-scenes material at Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.