I saw the full-length version of Honda’s Power of Dreams (Impossible Dream) ad in front of a movie recently, and I was knocked out by it. You can watch it here, on youtube. I know everyone has already praised it already, but I don't mind being late to the party.
It is perfectly simple: a man lip-synchs to Dean Martin’s version of the song “Impossible Dream” (from Man of La Mancha) while riding, in a series, increasingly complex vehicles. In a nicely specific detail, he is not an everyman, but rather a concrete guy with a vaguely 70s look, and he may be a kind of daredevil stunt man. His progress, combined with the song, is a clear but not pedantic way of indicating Honda’s desire to make better and better products. More than an image, it is a plot: the vehicles are increasingly dangerous as well as complex, and the commercial plays with having him crash and burn before we realize that he is saved (by Honda’s ingenuity). What I find most striking about the commercial is the way it revitalizes the song, which has become such a cliché I don’t think I have ever really heard it before. (In the same way, it is very difficult to “hear” Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech; we have heard it so many times that, unless we work hard, it registers as no more than “hey, that’s that famous ‘to be or not to be’ speech"). The song builds in intensity as the plot of the commercial progresses, and, in part because we see him singing, we pay attention to the lyrics, we hear them freshly and feel the progression of the song in a direct way. To revitalize something great that has become dusty: Ellis’s version of the Fantastic Four in Planetary, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman, and a Honda ad. Go figure.