The Coca-Cola Company has remastered its famous 1971 “Hilltop” commercial, in which a group of young people from all over the world assembled on a hilltop in Italy to sing about apple trees, honey bees, snow white turtle doves, and how Coke can not only teach the world to sing in perfect harmony but also keep it company.
So what was I doing with the original footage almost 45 years later? Technically speaking, I was remastering the 35mm film for 4K Television, and color-correcting it. In layman terms, that means I was preserving an iconic gem for a new generation.
I cannot even begin to explain what an honor this was for me. Sitting in a dark color-correction bay, I got chance to really study the footage. And even though the color might have needed some updating, I marveled at how this commercial continued to resonate with me and the world around me. I was reminded of how truly ahead of its time it was… and still is.
Curiously, the remastered version of the commercial uploaded to Coca-Cola’s YouTube channel isn’t even HD, let alone 4K:
For comparison, here’s a version of the commercial Coca-Cola uploaded back in 2009:
The remastered version does look quite a lot better even if it isn’t true HD. You’ll notice, however, it’s been cropped slightly to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is disappointing. The cropping isn’t too bad; it looks like Coca-Cola was able to reframe the original 35 mm footage to avoid having to severely crop the top and bottom.
Commercials, like TV shows, can be important cultural and historical artifacts. I think the “Hilltop” commercial is worthy of preservation and applaud Coca-Cola for remastering it. However, if Coca-Cola truly wants to preserve the “Hilltop” commercial, it needs to present it the way it aired on TV in 1971. This seems to be yet another example of how television isn’t given the respect it deserves.
(When footage from the commercial in the series finale of Mad Men, it retained its original aspect ratio. View the scene here (don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the final episode yet). Clearly, AMC believed viewers could handle seeing the commercial with pillar bars on the left and right.)
One final note: Back in 2012, Google uploaded its own remastered version of the “Hilltop” commercial (also cropped to 16:9) as part of its Project Re: Brief experiment. It actually looks even better than the remastered Coca-Cola version: